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Woman gives bulk of assets to Humane Society

POSTED: February 24, 2008 5:01 a.m.

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Henrietta Wilson was a woman of modest means. She lived a quiet life in North Hall, restricted by a disability, and didn’t have much social interaction with people.
So it came as a surprise when Wilson, 75, died a year ago and left nearly all of her assets to the Humane Society of Hall County.
“Any property beyond her dogs and a car, which was given to someone else, went to the Humane Society,” said Phillip Sartain, a Gainesville attorney who was executor of Wilson’s will.
Rick Aiken, president of the Humane Society, said the assets included Wilson’s savings accounts, most of her possessions, her house and the land it sits on.
“We won’t know for sure how much it’s all worth until we sell the house, but I’d estimate about $250,000 total,” he said. “It’s definitely the largest donation we’ve ever received.”
Aiken said the money will really help the Humane Society, which has an annual operating budget of $1.2 million, but still struggles to deal with the constant influx of homeless pets.
“(Wilson) didn’t earmark the money for any certain thing,” he said. “We’ll put the proceeds from the house into the general operating budget. We’d also like to increase our education department, and we eventually want to buy another van and expand our spay/neuter clinic.”
The organization has already held an estate sale of Wilson’s belongings, which netted about $7,000.
Though Aiken is grateful for the contribution, he said the public knows almost nothing about the benefactor.
“I don’t think she donated for her legacy or anything,” he said. “She was not interested in recognition for herself.”
Sartain, who represented Wilson for more than a decade, said his client never sought the limelight. “She didn’t want a funeral or an obituary. She was a solitary woman,” he said. “But she loved those dogs.”
Sartain said Wilson never had a spouse or children, so she lavished attention on her two Chihuahuas.
“She fixed them chicken, never fed them dog food,” he said. “When she came to me to do her will, we set up trust funds for both of them, as well as instructions for their care.”
At the time of her death last Feb. 28, only one Chihuahua remained. That dog, named Anna Belle, was given to a trusted neighbor.
But Sartain said Wilson, who had built up a considerable amount of savings, didn’t know what to do with the rest of her funds. “She didn’t have a lot of close relatives and didn’t know who to leave the money to,” he said. “Because she loved her pets, it seemed a perfect fit to leave it to the Humane Society.”
The companionship of Wilson’s dogs helped get her through some tough times. She worked in the cafeteria of Northeast Georgia Medical Center for 35 years before suffering a severe shoulder injury in a fall. Her arm remained so swollen she could barely use it, and eventually she had to have it amputated.
“The dogs were everything to her. I don’t know what she would have done without them,” said Gainesville resident George Cochran.
He and his wife Joyce, who met Wilson through their church, helped Wilson during her later years by performing tasks such as grocery shopping for her.
“Half of her grocery bill was spent on animals,” Cochran said. “She’d buy the finest steaks, the best cuts of ham and turkey for her dogs.”
Cochran said Wilson enjoyed watching dog shows on TV, and she would be “tickled to death” to know that her money is now helping animals.
Sartain said the moral of the story is that anyone can make a difference.
“There’s an opportunity to have a legacy that reaches way beyond your death,” he said. “Here is someone who was overlooked, who never sought attention for herself. Yet she made a significant contribution.”


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