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Tobacco heir’s bequest a windfall

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – The Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation in Winston-Salem has decided to distribute to two other local organizations half the $24 million in assets it received from the estate of Charles H. Babcock Jr.

Based on months of study by members of the Babcock family who serve on its board, the $174 million-asset foundation has decided to keep $12 million and divide another $12 million evenly between the Winston-Salem Foundation and the Reynolda House Museum of American Art.

Gayle Williams, executive director of the Babcock Foundation, says the foundation undertook its study because it wanted to be “careful and thoughtful about Charles’ lifelong interests, and make decisions accordingly.”

Babcock, a grandson of tobacco magnate R.J. Reynolds and the son of Mary Reynolds Babcock, Reynolds’ daughter, died in March 2005.

According to published reports, community leaders involved with local arts and cultural groups were concerned that Babcock, who suffered from schizophrenia and had been declared mentally incompetent, may not have understood the implications of his handwritten will.

Those concerns by local leaders reportedly included the fact that while Babcock was a long-time supporter of local organizations, he was giving the bulk of his estate to a local foundation with a focus throughout the Southeast.

Williams says the board committee concluded that Babcock’s lifelong interests were Reynolda House, the family home; the community of Winston-Salem, particularly the arts and culture; and the Babcock Foundation, the family foundation, which he had served as a board member when he was younger.

The gift to the $270 million-asset Winston-Salem Foundation establishes two endowment funds, including an unrestricted fund to support generating changing needs of the community, and a field-of-interest fund to support arts and culture in the community.

The endowed gift is the largest the foundation ever has received for the purpose of making grants based on competitive applications, says Margaret Foster, director of marketing and communications.

The gift to the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, which includes the 35,000-square-foot structure that opened in 1917 and served for decades as the home of the Reynolds family and later the Babcock family, is the largest the organization ever has received for its endowment, says Marty Edwards, director of development.

With an endowment of $34 million and an annual operating budget of $3.6 million, the museum will use the income from the gift, or about $300,000 a year, to support upkeep of the facility and underwrite its programs.

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