A Transformational Bequest
Marsha Bailey reflects on 20 years of friendship & a surprise gift
The first time I met Laurie Converse, we had lunch at the Cajun Kitchen, which had recently opened a second location. I went to the wrong one. This was before everyone carried a phone in their pocket. I hurried over to the newer location where she was patiently waiting. I'd also invited a WEV client who had started a fine arts center in Santa Barbara's warehouse district. At the end of our lunch, I asked if Laurie would consider a gift of $2,500 to support the cost of putting a low-income client through our core self-employment training program. Laurie said yes, and as we were about to leave, she said, "There's more where that came from."
Over nearly 20 years of giving, Laurie never said no. We had lunch together a couple of times a year, and I didn't want to ask her for money every time we met. I wanted to thank her, get to know her, and update her on WEV's progress. But she always asked, "Do you need money?"
If you work for a non-profit, you always need money. So that's what I told her.
We always found plenty of things to talk about. Our first common interest was choral music. She'd sung in the Santa Barbara Chorale with one of our board members, Barbara Aue, who introduced her to WEV. She told me about the business she and her husband John had operated, which manufactured model kits for things like planes and boats. That experience gave her an appreciation for the challenges of operating a small business. Laurie also shared a lot about her family: her husband John, her daughter Carol, and her parents, who had died when she and her sister were teenagers.
For a while, Laurie volunteered in WEV's office doing whatever tasks we needed done. She didn't care what the work was, she said, she just wanted something to get her out of the house.
Over the years, Laurie's giving increased and she made many matching gifts to encourage others to give. She didn't want recognition but agreed to let me publish her name. I discussed WEV's desire to establish an endowment and Laurie explained that the terms of her trust prevented her from giving away the assets. As a result, I had no expectations on that front.
Laurie confronted many health issues during her life. One impacted her balance, so I'd pick her up and we would go to lunch where there were no steps to climb. She didn't want anything fancy; we usually went to the Pepper Tree. She loved the small gifts of chocolates and other products from WEV client businesses that I brought her. Laurie developed hearing issues that forced her to stop singing and made it difficult for her to hear in a big noisy room. She never attended a WEV event. Later, when she became housebound, I brought lunch from Fresco Café, a long-standing WEV client business, and we ate at her kitchen table. One of the last times I saw Laurie, I arranged for Jill Marie and Jean Michel Carré (Chocolats du Calibressan) to do a private chocolate-tasting for her. If she couldn't come to WEV, I could bring WEV to her.
In 2018, I returned from vacation and learned that Laurie had passed away. It came as a sad surprise as she'd been in good spirits, going to physical therapy and getting stronger the last time I'd seen her. Even more of a surprise was learning that Laurie had left us a sizeable bequest, one that would increase our small endowment ten-fold. I guess Laurie didn't tell me everything. I wish I could have thanked her. That I could have told her how much that gift meant to WEV's future and to my peace of mind, knowing that I could retire in the knowledge that WEV was in good financial shape. Donors like Laurie Converse ensure that WEV will be able to meet the changing needs of future generations of women whatever they may be.