Margaret Anne Cargill, 85; Anonymous Philanthropist

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Write
Friday, August 4, 2006

Margaret Anne Cargill, 85, a philanthropist who was listed by Forbes magazine last year as the 164th richest American, with a net worth of $1.8 billion, died of complications of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease Aug. 1 at her home in La Jolla, Calif.

Miss Cargill, one of eight heirs to the Cargill Inc. agribusiness fortune, was a major donor to the American Red Cross, the Nature Conservancy and the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian, according to a family spokeswoman.

She gave away more than $200 million, much of it since 1990, and always on the condition of anonymity. Even the recipients of her largest donations often did not know who gave the money, a spokeswoman for her trustees said.

Virginia Elwell, the American Indian museum's director of development, said she met Miss Cargill at the museum's grand opening in 2004, but was told only her first name. Although Elwell knew she was a major donor, having given $2.4 million since 1997, it wasn't until this week that she learned Miss Cargill's last name.

"She's one of those very rare people who chose to give anonymously, so it's difficult to find out about her motivations. She gave from the heart, not in search of any kind of recognition," Elwell said. "My impression of her was that she was lit up from the inside, maybe because of the good she was doing. She was a true benefactor . . . and a delightful lady."

The biggest recipient of her largess was the American Red Cross, to which she gave a little more than $9 million for local, national and international programs. She supported the San Diego chapter and its lifesaving programs, such as teaching aquatics skills for children, and she made contributions to national disaster funds. She also provided major financial support to at least two programs in Russia.

One of the programs in Russia is aimed at preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS in the city of Irkutsk by identifying and working with pregnant women. It also runs an orphanage for children with HIV. The other program provides a support system for disabled children that enables them to live at home.

She made her first donation to the Red Cross in 1997 to help people displaced by the Red River flooding in North Dakota and Minnesota, said Kathleen Loehr, interim vice president for development at the American Red Cross. Through the trustees of her foundation, she went on to support programs and projects with which she felt a connection, particularly those benefiting children, Loehr said.

"Over her career as a philanthropist, she was interested in supporting programs that help children no one else would help," Loehr said. The Red Cross plans to name its new building in San Diego after her.

Her donations to the Nature Conservancy were focused on protecting backcountry areas near San Diego and the Great Bear Rainforest in coastal British Columbia, an organization spokeswoman said.

Miss Cargill was born in Los Angeles. She was a granddaughter of William Cargill, who in 1865 founded the grain storage firm that became one of the world's largest private companies. Miss Cargill, an artist and a jewelry maker, graduated from the University of Minnesota with a degree in art education. She moved to Southern California, where she pursued her interest in arts and crafts and donated to a number of local charities.

She lived quietly but was described as lively when among friends. She began making significant donations about 15 years ago, with gifts to organizations such as the San Diego Humane Society, St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego and the Idyllwild School of Music and the Arts in California.

She also had given the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis $4.2 million since 1990.

"I think it's one of the most remarkable examples of pure philanthropy I've encountered," Bruce Karstadt, chief executive officer of the institute, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "The support has had a transformational impact, especially on our educational programs and outreach initiatives."

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