Mrs. Louise Oriole Burevitch of Wilmington died in September 2014, leaving a fortune that few suspected she had. The bulk of her estate was earmarked for charitable purposes, including $20 million for an endowment that will be administered by the North Carolina Community Foundation.
A gift of this size is monumental for any community foundation, and so far the single largest gift received by NCCF, according to Jennifer Tolle Whiteside, CEO and president. “Philanthropy at this scale has the potential to transform entire regions,” Tolle Whiteside said. “This endowment will serve as a permanent asset for eastern North Carolina.”
While she enjoyed a reputation during her later years as a generous philanthropist in her beloved New Hanover County, aside from some well-publicized major gifts to universities, Burevitch did not seek the limelight for her giving. “She was that quintessential ‘millionaire next door,’” said Beth Boney Jenkins, NCCF vice president for development. “She lived modestly, drove an older model Ford and really didn’t appear to spend much money, except on charitable causes that mattered to her.”
Jenkins had worked with “Mrs. B,” as friends called her, on philanthropic matters during her later years. Her contributions were many, generous and varied – but with some common themes: animal welfare, education, healthcare and issues related to women and children.
Jenkins’ professional relationship with Mrs. B gradually became a friendship, which was the hallmark of many who worked with her over the years.
“She was just a fun person to be around,” said Jennifer Casey, a First Citizens Bank senior vice president and fiduciary advisor who handled the majority of her financial affairs and also became a good friend.
Mrs. B’s generous nature, concern for the welfare of people and animals and tax considerations provided the initial impetus for her charitable giving. “At one point she realized that she would be giving a substantial amount to the federal government if she didn’t make some charitable contributions,” Casey said. Mrs. B began to research causes and organizations that could benefit from her largesse.
Her love of animals, and especially dogs, made it easy to pinpoint one major category of her charitable giving. Having no children or close relatives, Mrs. B’s pets were like family, some even named in her obituary. She forged deep friendships with her animals’ caregivers, especially Dr. Jeff Dineen, a local veterinarian.
To honor their relationship and her last dog, Jake, Mrs. B endowed a professorship at Auburn University’s School of Veterinary Medicine, Dineen’s alma mater. He said when the University notified him of her gift, he was very touched by her thoughtfulness. “Then when I found out how much it was, I was totally floored,” he said. “I had no idea she had that kind of wealth.”
Mrs. B loved “her critters,” said Dineen. “And she also loved people.” He described regular visits with him and his staff, who also grew quite fond of her. In later years when she couldn’t walk well, she would pull into the parking lot around lunch time when the office was quiet, just to check on him and the staff. Everyone would go outside to greet her and chat curbside.
Her interests in sea creatures informed a generous gift to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, where Mrs. B provided funding for a variety of programs and the construction of a building that houses a lab for the study of marine mammals. Beau Cummings, UNC-W’s director of development for major gifts, described her as “an unforgettable person.” The two became such close friends that Cummings served as a pall bearer at her funeral.
Cummings recalled a woman with a sweet tooth who always looked forward to the candy he brought on his visits. “She liked chocolate, hugs and visitors,” he said. “Most of all, she loved, as she put it, ‘kids and critters,’” he said. “I always got a kick of how she put that.”
Another friend who started out as a professional acquaintance was Margaret Robison, vice president for institutional advancement at Cape Fear Community College and executive director of its foundation.
It was “that sparkle in her eye and that spirit of fun” that attracted people to her, Robison said. “Mrs. B was a joy to be with and up for anything.”
Mrs. B donated funds for a nursing lab at Cape Fear, as well as the lobby that will be named after Jake when the community college’s new vet-tech clinic is constructed.
Most of Mrs. B’s wealth resulted from her first marriage to Arthur Oriole, whom many have called the “love of her life.” A New York stock broker who did extremely well, he died tragically at home of heart failure in his 40s. “She never really got over that loss,” Casey said (although she later wed William Robert Burevitch, who also predeceased her).
As the story goes, “Artie” Oriole was smitten the first time he laid eyes on the former Nell Louise Johnson during a Wrightsville Beach stopover while motoring from New York to Florida. “He told friends he had never seen a more beautiful girl,” Casey said. He offered to drive her from the beach to her home in Wilmington in his red convertible, something she desperately wanted to be seen in around town. She called her mother to seek permission, which was granted, much to everyone’s surprise!
They began a long-distance relationship by mail. A year later, he returned to Wilmington and proposed. They married in New York, where they lived and were happy and active, enjoying the city’s night life, Broadway theater and travel throughout the United States and world.
Mrs. B had a life-long interest in fashion, even making her own wedding dress. “She always had her hair and nails done and loved pretty clothes and shopping,” Casey said.
One of Mrs. B’s favorite photographs was of her and Artie standing on a pier in matching bathing suits that she had designed and sewed for them. The old photograph depicts a svelte, beautiful couple who could have easily been cast in movies of the time.
Although Mrs. B’s philanthropy began during her later years, it soon became a big part of her life and philosophy, according to Casey. She was able to derive a lot of personal satisfaction from her giving by supporting causes she cared about. “She met many people she would not have known and was invited a lot of places,” Casey said. “Giving was fun for her and opened a lot of doors.”
As Mrs. B became more knowledgeable about charitable giving, she even briefly considered establishing her own private foundation. She discarded the idea when she learned about the regulatory red tape and realized there would be no one to manage an independent organization when she was gone. She ultimately decided that a donor advised fund would provide the flexibility, support and tax advantages she needed. It was around this time that she established an endowment with the North Carolina Community Foundation to serve as a “place keeper” for her legacy giving, Jenkins said.
Jenkins noted the benefit of “a team approach” shared by John Sloan, Mrs. B’s attorney at Ward & Smith; Casey at First Citizens; and NCCF that helped Mrs. B define and implement a planned giving strategy that achieved her goals and potential as a philanthropist.
Mrs. B provides another example of NCCF coming together with professional advisors to help people realize their legacies through planned giving. “While most people don’t have $20 million to support their charitable interests after they’re gone, Mrs. B’s story is a dramatic example of the value of learning how to preserve and direct your wealth, at any level, so it can fuel your philanthropic passions for generations to come,” Jenkins said.
Learn more about the Louise Oriole Burevitch Endowment.