Originally created 03/04/99

Woman leaves huge sums to Methodist groups

ATLANTA -- Margaret Adger Pitts died last summer at 104 in the same simple home where she was born in Waverly Hall, north of Columbus.

She saw her $192 million fortune, amassed in Coca-Cola stock by her late father, as merely a favorable fact of life, said Young Harris College President Thomas Yow III.

Mr. Yow's school -- along with Emory University, a Methodist ministers' pension fund and a Macon children's home -- learned this week that they will share the income from Ms. Pitts' considerable assets.

W.I.H. Pitts, a dry goods merchant, built his fortune on Coke stock, buying it in the 1920s. He bequeathed the stock to his daughter, who had no children or other survivors, and she left it to the four Methodist-related causes.

"She probably defined Methodism in south Georgia," Mr. Yow said. "She understood, in my opinion, very clearly the opportunity she'd been given by virtue of birth and was very generous in her support."

Emory's Candler School of Theology will receive the dividend income from about $65 million of the estate. It's the third-largest gift in Emory's history and will fund six scholarships for theology students in the fall and ultimately 18 scholarships, said R. Kevin LaGree, the dean of the theology school.

Young Harris will receive the dividend income from $63.5 million, while The Methodist Home for Children and Youth in Macon will receive the income from about $47.25 million, and the pension fund for ministers in south Georgia will receive the income from about $16.25 million.

The institutions will receive dividends from the estate's investments held in trust, about 1 percent of the value each year. They will ask SunTrust Bank, the trust administrator, for the total annual return of the trusts' value, about 4 percent or 5 percent annually.

"This is very significant in the history of American philanthropy," said Emory President William Chace.

Young Harris will spend the money on scholarships, religious life programs and campus improvements -- Ms. Pitts' primary philanthropic interests at the college, Mr. Yow said.

Despite her wealth, Ms. Pitts lived simply, favoring plain clothes, food and customs, Mr. Yow recalled Wednesday. Arthritis confined her to a wheelchair in later years, but she rarely missed church and often visited Young Harris and the Macon children's home.

"You would have never guessed" her affluence, Mr. Yow said. "She was as down-to-earth a person as I've ever known."

He said Ms. Pitts insisted on collecting table scraps at restaurants to take home for her beloved dog, Prissy, who perched in her lap.

The Macon home has a cottage that's been dubbed "Miss Margaret's house," said Steve Rumford, administrator of the home.

"She was here at the groundbreaking, and she had a shovel in her hand. She was 103."


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