Originally created 03/09/99

Woman leaves $1 million to two churches



Mary Brigham always had been generous, but even she might have been surprised by the $1 million gift she left two Alabama Episcopal churches for the deaf.

St. Mark's Church for the Deaf in Mobile, and St. John's Church for the Deaf in Birmingham, received $520,000 each from the Columbia County woman's estate.

While Miss Brigham was not deaf, both congregations were established by the Rev. Robert Fletcher -- who with his wife Estelle had been friends with Miss Brigham since the 1930s.

"She was a real sweet person," said Bob Hightower, who managed Miss Brigham's financial investments and served as executor of her estate.

In her will, Miss Brigham bequeathed a total of $150,000 to various people, including $5,000 for the Alabama churches. Whatever was left of her estate was to be given to the churches, a ministry Miss Brigham had supported throughout her life.

"There was a lot more left over," Mr. Hightower said Monday.

But, he said, Miss Brigham never acknowledged how much money she had and often worried about having enough. Mr. Hightower and his wife, Sue, were lifelong friends of Miss Brigham.

Born and raised in Augusta, Miss Brigham had few living relatives when she died in August at 87. She had been active in the Church of the Good Shepherd on Walton Way and had worked to raise money for Episcopal Day School when it first opened.

She lived in Brandon Wilde in Columbia County during the last six to seven years of her life.

During a weekend ceremony in Birmingham, the two congregations gathered at St. John's Church with the Hightowers and surviving members of the Brigham and Fletcher families -- including the Fletchers' daughter, actress Louise Fletcher from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

The congregations plan to invest the money in trust funds to assure continuity of their specialized ministries.

"Since both congregations are small, this bequest has a tremendous positive impact on their ability to serve deaf people in their communities," said the Rev. Jay Croft of St. John's Church for the Deaf.

Peggy Ussery can be reached at (706) 868-1222, Ext. 112, or ussery@augustachronicle.com.