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A frugal librarian drove an old car, ate TV dinners — and left $4 million to his university

Robert Morin (Courtesy of the University of New Hampshire)

Robert Morin lived a simple, frugal life.

He drove a ’92 Plymouth, the Boston Globe reported. In his free time, Morin read — a lot. And he didn’t eat fancy meals.

“He would have some Fritos and a Coke for breakfast, a quick cheese sandwich at the library, and at home would have a frozen dinner because the only thing he had to work with was a microwave,” his financial adviser, Edward Mullen, told the Globe. “He was a very unusual gentleman.”

Morin was a longtime employee at the University of New Hampshire library; he worked as a cataloguer, which is basically someone who writes descriptions of new material coming into the library.

Last week, the university announced that when Morin died in March 2015 at the age of 77, he left his estate to the school.

His $4 million estate.

“It’s very inspiring and exciting,” Erika Mantz, a UNH spokeswoman, told the Globe. “In our history, I’m not aware of anything like this.”

A UNH news release about the gift noted that “few suspected” Morin, a graduate of the school, had “quietly amassed” millions. But his life wasn’t super extravagant. He watched thousands of videos, according to the release, and read a bunch of books. Okay, that’s all sort of an understatement. I don’t know if I can really capture it, so I’m just going to go ahead and quote this portion of the news here, because, wow:

Morin also had a passion for watching movies, and from 1979 to 1997 he watched more than 22,000 videos. Following this feat, he switched his attention to books. He read, in chronological order, every book published in the U.S. from 1930 to 1940 — excluding children’s books, textbooks and books about cooking and technology. At the time of his death he had reached 1,938, the year of his birth.

“He never went out,” Mullen, the financial adviser who helped Morin build his wealth, told the New Hampshire Union Leader.

Morin was employed by the university for nearly five decades before his retirement in 2014. In the 2013-2014 fiscal year, he was paid $102,220, according to a Nashua Telegraph database of salaries provided by the University System of New Hampshire.

Mullen, in his interview with the Globe, called Morin a “very bright guy and a very smart guy.” He told the newspaper that Morin wanted to give UNH freedom to spend the gift and trusted them to use his funds.

“He said, ‘They’ll figure out what to do with it,’ ” Mullen told the Globe.

In a phone interview with The Washington Post on Tuesday, Mantz called Morin “a very recognizable person on campus” who lived a simple and quiet life, stayed away from controversy and frequently took the time to chat with students.

“He was a very distinctive person, and actually a lot of people knew him just from seeing him on campus,” she said. “He smoked a pipe, and he was outside a lot in the courtyard in the front of the library, and he loved to talk to students. So he was very committed, and he talked quite a bit out in the courtyard with whoever, whatever students were around. And he was very committed to the student workers who worked in our main library. He talked with them quite a bit.”

A portion of Morin’s gift — $100,000 — will go to the university’s Dimond Library, where Morin worked, according to the news release. That money, the only dedicated gift in the estate, will be used for scholarships for work-study students and to support staffers who are continuing their library-science education. It will also help fund a renovation project in a multimedia room at the library.

An additional $1 million will go toward a video scoreboard at the UNH football stadium. (In the final months of his life, Morin started watching football while he was in an assisted-living center, according to the release. He learned the rules of the game and knew the players’ names.) Another chunk of the money will go toward an expanded and centrally located career center, Mantz said.

“I think the feeling around here has been just kind of awe,” she said, “that someone who worked here pretty much their whole life … that he was so committed to this place and the students, and he really wanted to make a difference and provide the money to the university.”

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