U Washington gets $56.1M donation from frugal alumnus

The University of Washington School of Law received a $56.1 million gift in November from a frugal alumnus.

Jack MacDonald, who graduated from the University of Washington School of Law in 1940, spent his three-decade legal career working as an attorney for the Veteran’s Administration in Seattle.

The 98-year-old attorney lived in a retirement community for the last 20 years of his life, and had given little indication that he was wealthy. He reportedly used coupons, wore sweaters with holes in them, and rode the bus.

He inherited his wealth from his parents, who owned MacDonald Meat Co. in Seattle. He lived a frugal life and sought to increase the wealth through investments.

“Our family has lived with the ‘secret’ of Jack’s generous fortune for more than 40 years, all while being amazed at his frugal lifestyle and modest demeanor,” said Regen Dennis, MacDonald’s stepdaughter. “He was quirky and eccentric in many ways, and always stayed true to himself by acting on his convictions to do the most good with his wealth.”

In the end, he donated a total of $187.6 million to the law school, Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Salvation Army.

It was the largest philanthropic gift in Washington State this year and the sixth largest in the country in 2013. The $56.1 million was the largest to the law school in its 114-year history.

Consistent with MacDonald’s wishes, the trust will fund student scholarships, faculty excellence and programs at the heart of University of Washington’s mission to educate leaders for the global common good. The trust also provides support for the immediate establishment of the Jack MacDonald Endowed Chair in Law, which will add to the ranks of the school’s distinguished faculty.

“We are humbled by Jack’s generosity and his confidence in UW Law to carry out his vision for a more just and equitable society,” said Dean Kellye Testy. “Jack believed in the power of the law to make positive change and in the power of lawyers to help solve the world’s complex problems. We are inspired by his legacy, and his investment will reach every corner of the law school and every student who studies here for generations.”

 “Life will not be the same without him and our family recognizes how much his generous spirit will benefit the Northwest community. I am so proud of Jack – he was so dedicated to both my mother and to his ever-important philanthropy.”