Trustees of the estate of Valeria Harris Symington distributed $10 million this week to five local groups that plan to put most of it in the bank.
Symington, a farmer and philanthropist who died last August at age 87, left $2.5 million each to Temple Hall Farm, Ida Lee Recreation Center and the Rust Library and $1.25 million each to Loudoun Country Day School and Oatlands Plantation. The rest of her estate after taxes -- about $7 million -- will be divided among those recipients later.
"She devoted herself to Loudoun County and the people who live in it," said Kenneth F. Parks, the attorney for Symington's estate. "She wanted to both preserve some of the land and enrich the lives of the people here, and I think that's reflected in her gifts. "
Symington, known to her friends as A.V. -- short for Auntie Val -- was born in New York and raised in Paris and Chicago before moving to Loudoun in 1935. Her passions included historic preservation, swimming, farming and fox hunting -- as well as keeping up a flurry of correspondence with those dear to her.
"It's just a tremendous gift," said Anita White, chairman of the Oatlands board, who knew Symington for more than 40 years. She said Oatlands would use its bequest to supplement its permanent endowment, now worth nearly $5.5 million. White said the board of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which owns the former wheat plantation, will decide on a plan for the money this fall.
Randall Hollister, headmaster of Loudoun Country Day School, keeps a picture of Symington and a framed note from her on his office wall. During a dozen years of friendship, their wide-ranging conversations touched on books, travel and agriculture -- but never on the possibility of a donation to the school, he said.
"She was always keenly interested in the plans of the school and the future of the school, but she never made any indication that she was thinking of making this gift," Hollister said.
Hollister said he intends to use the money as a "quasi-endowment" and let it earn interest.
"At four or five percent, $60,000, that's a shot in the arm for a school like ours," Hollister said, noting that the school is negotiating to buy more than 50 acres in Leesburg on which to build a new facility. The private Leesburg school, which teaches pre-kindergarten through eighth grade, also hopes to add a high school. "But as things come up that are absolutely essential for our program that we don't have budgeted -- then, yes, I'm going to consider looking at it," he said.
Temple Hall Farm, on 286 acres north of Leesburg that Symington donated to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority in 1985, will put half of the money in its endowment and leave the rest on hand for "immediate needs" as they arise, said Carol Ann Cohen, spokeswoman for the authority.
Linda Holtslander, assistant director of the Loudoun County public libraries, said books and other items will be purchased for the Rust Library in Leesburg, which will allow library users countywide to use the materials via its online system.
"It's an outstanding opportunity for us to provide better services to all community members," said Holtslander, who said Rust Library would first complete its extensive renovation and 12,000-square-foot expansion already funded with county-issued bonds.
Rich Williams, assistant director for recreation at the Leesburg Parks and Recreation Department, said its donation likely will be used to construct facilities or enhance existing ones at Ida Lee.
"We obviously want to do something that's going to benefit the most citizens within the town of Leesburg," said Williams, who cited building a pool, enclosing outdoor tennis courts or building a third soccer field as possible uses for the funds. The Leesburg Town Council will make the final decision, he said.