I usually don’t write much about celebrities in this column, though there are certainly many who are indeed ‘good people doing good things’. But often I think celebrities have plenty and we can’t really relate to them. As a rule, I find it more inspirational to highlight those average people just like you and me, who are going the extra mile, sharing of either their time or money to help others. I’m going to make an exception today, though.
Kirk Douglas died not quite a month ago on February 5th. I’m sure the name rings a bell with everyone reading this, for Mr. Douglas’ career was long and successful, beginning in 1946, and culminating with three Academy Awards, an honorary Oscar for Lifetime Achievement, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Mr. Douglas was 103 at the time of his death and had survived a helicopter crash in 1991 and a stroke in 1996. All of which is interesting, and none of which is why Mr. Douglas is on my good people post today. He is here because when he died, almost every cent of his $61 million estate was gifted to various charities. Kirk and his wife Anne are no strangers to philanthropy … they’ve been doing it most of their lives. They established the Anne Douglas Center for Homeless Women at the Los Angeles Mission, which has helped hundreds of women turn their lives around. In March 2015, Kirk and his wife donated $2.3 million to the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. Since the early 1990s, Kirk and Anne Douglas donated up to $40 million to Harry’s Haven, an Alzheimer’s treatment facility in Woodland Hills. In addition, they have donated to numerous schools, universities and projects to help the poor and the homeless.
Kirk spent his childhood in poverty, one of seven children born to immigrant parents. Seems he never forgot his humble beginnings, even when preparing for his own death. Charitable recipients included St. Lawrence University to help fund the Kirk Douglas Scholarship for underprivileged students, primarily those who grew up in poverty, like Kirk did himself back during the Great Depression of the 1920s and 30s.
Contributions also went to Westwood’s Sinai Temple, Culver City’s Kirk Douglas Theater, and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, which had also previously received large donations from the Oscar-winning actor including $2.3 million to purchase new equipment for the pediatrics division. All worthy causes that will be able to do just a little bit more, thanks to Mr. Douglas’ generosity.
Sheila Woodcock was not a celebrity, and compared to Kirk Douglas, she was but a young spring chicken when she died in 2018 at the age of 87, but she was a good people nonetheless. Sheila lived in New South Wales, Australia and enjoyed the finer things in life: travel, horticulture, chocolate, animal companionship, and acting. She lived a quiet life, never married, no children, but she had a number of close friends through the years.
When she died, her friends and family were shocked to learn that she had amassed an estate valued at $14 million, and left it all to charity. Her second cousin Kent Woodcock only learned of the extent of her wealth shortly before her death …
“She did not share her will with anybody—I only found out in the last six months.”
Sheila left $1.375 million to the Helicopter Rescue Service, a gift which they said was “deeply humbling,” and that would be used to fund high-tech training equipment like a high fidelity winch simulator and live hoist training tower to practice retrieving souls from the ground while the helicopter is in flight. She left another $1.375 million to the Royal Flying Doctor Service for the purchase of a new plane engine and other essential pieces of equipment.Having donated $200,000 to the RSPCA New South Wales throughout her lifetime, the animal rescue service found themselves on the receiving end of yet another $1.375 million, which will allow the organization to move their entire veterinary hospital to a brand-new building. One of the largest education-oriented charities in Australia, the Smith Family’s partnership received a $340,000 bequest in Shelia’s will which they called “transformative”. The money will go towards the Learning for Life program, the ARTcastle program, and to help children access educational opportunities they might not reach on their own by creating the Sheila Woodcock Memorial Scholarship.
Other recipients of the woman’s generosity cover the fields of health, humanity and discovery: The Scots Kirk Presbyterian Church Hamilton, The Salvation Army, Diabetes NSW, The Garvan Institute of Medical Research, and Guide Dogs Australia, all received $1.3 million. Smaller sums were also given to Vision Australia, The Heart Foundation, Cancer Council, the Australian Red Cross, World Vision, and Breast Cancer Trials to fund dedicated research and the Sheila Woodcock Travel Grant to help young doctors attend Breast Cancer Trials’ Annual Scientific Meeting.
What a marvelous thing to do, yes?
So, next week I’ll return to the usual fare, ordinary people going above and beyond to help make the world just a little bit better, but for today, thank you Kirk Douglas and Sheila Woodcock, for your generous legacies, for being … good people.