$1.8 Million Gift from Graham Estate Supports Work of Island Hospice Agency

Gazette Senior Writer

Hospice of Martha's Vineyard, the singular program that quietly provides free care to terminally ill patients and their families on the Island, is now set to receive a stunning gift of $1.8 million from the estate of the late Katharine Graham.

Named as one of several beneficiaries of a charitable remainder trust, Hospice is the sole Martha's Vineyard charity to receive a gift from Mrs. Graham's estate.

The former publisher of The Washington Post and a summer resident of the Vineyard for some three decades, Mrs. Graham died last summer at the age of 84.

The gift from her estate will help to complete a first-ever endowment campaign that has been under way at Hospice for the last four years. The gift actually will allow Hospice to exceed the campaign goal of $2 million.

"This is a wonderful gift and we are very thankful," said Hospice president Polly Brown yesterday. "We feel so grateful and really humbled by the belief in our campaign," said Emily Bramhall, a member of the board of directors for Hospice who led the endowment campaign for the last two years.

Both Ms. Bramhall and Ms. Brown said the gift from the Graham estate is a special tribute to the 427 people who have contributed to the endowment campaign. "We have had gifts ranging from $5 to $100,000, and we are grateful for each and every one of them," Ms. Bramhall said. Begun in 1998, the campaign has been conducted quietly and without the help of professional fund-raisers.

The endowment is aimed at providing enough interest money to cover the annual operating deficit at Hospice. The entire operating budget at Hospice comes from fundraising.

A number of local charities operate on a shoestring, but the Hospice program on the Vineyard is the epitome of such charities. Just six per cent of the annual $250,000 operating budget is spent on overhead while the remainder goes to pay for the important work of caring for patients and their families. More than 90 per cent of the money collected through fundraising goes directly into services. The professional staff is small; the volunteer staff is large.

All hospice work on the Vineyard is provided free of charge, and the Island hospice program is one of a very small number of programs in the country that is unfettered by bureaucracy, operating with no state and federal funding and with no third-party insurance payments. The organization's office is located in a small trailer that Hospice rents on the campus of the Martha's Vineyard Hospital; the trailer does not even have a bathroom.

"It's very, very bare bones," said Ms. Bramhall.

"We don't charge for our services and we don't get reimbursed, and part of that is so we don't have our hands tied and we can give the care that people need," she added.

Ms. Brown said the Vineyard hospice program is one of 153 programs in the country that takes no third-party payments; she said there are only a handful of programs like it in Massachusetts, including one on Nantucket. "We're there for the people who need it and we don't have to play with the regulations," Ms. Brown said.

"I think that was one fact that was appreciated by the estate - that this is really for the Island people, it is direct care to Island people," Ms. Bramhall said.

Ms. Bramhall and Ms. Brown said they learned about the impending gift from Mrs. Graham's estate late last year; the legal paperwork was just received last week.

Ms. Bramhall said $500,000 of the gift money has been earmarked for capital spending if needed, and the remainder will become part of the endowment fund.

Before the gift from Mrs. Graham's estate, the Hospice endowment campaign had collected $682,000 plus two challenge grants totaling $400,000. The challenge pledges carried a condition that they would not be activated until the campaign hit the $1 million mark. The gift from the Graham estate will activate those pledges.

Ms. Brown said the gift does not mean that Hospice can stop raising money. "The fund-raising committee still has to work pretty hard to raise operating funds; we've still got to raise funds every year," she said.

"But this means we aren't going to be sweating it out at the end of the year," Ms. Bramhall added. "It might enable us to do a few more things," Ms. Brown said.

Even the fund-raising work at Hospice is unusual. The work is done by a wide array of people in the community, some who are not on the board or any committee but who nevertheless volunteer their time to work on events or contribute hand-made items to sell at an annual Christmas bazaar.

"There is a huge community spirit," said Ms. Brown. "It's all just very quiet, and it's really gratifying," said Ms. Bramhall.

Ms. Brown was elected president of Hospice at the annual meeting this week; she also wears many other hats within the organization. Like so many others who are involved with Hospice, the dedication of Ms. Brown and Ms. Bramhall springs from their own personal experiences with hospice care.

"It's just something I so strongly believe in, and I believe in it because it is needed," Ms. Brown said.

Both women expressed gratitude for the gift. "We are not horn-tooters, it's the nature of the organization and the nature of the care that we are quiet, but that isn't to say that we're not totally thrilled," said Ms. Bramhall.

Concluded Ms. Brown: "This means we are going to be a viable organization for a long time to come."