Fifty years after the death of a progressive Southern publisher, a judge has told the executors of his estate to set up a charity to fulfill his last wish-using part of his fortune to provide free medical care for indigent blacks.
"I feel better about it," said Laura O'Callaghan, one of the two remaining heirs of W.T. Anderson, former publisher of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph.
"He was a champion of the underdog. He had a great interest in the black community," she said.
Anderson left a $600,000 estate when he died in 1945. Since then, it has grown to $2.4 million. In his will, he set aside some of the money for the charity, but it has remained in a bank untouched for half a century.
O'Callaghan, Anderson's niece, and his half-sister, Catherine Acker, began a campaign two years ago to have Anderson's will honored. The estate has been administered since 1991 by NationsBank.
O'Callaghan said the heirs want the Anderson money to be given to Medical Center of Central Georgia, a 531-bed Macon hospital that provides indigent care. The will stipulates only Macon and vicinity.
During a hearing this month, bank attorney John Comer told Superior Court Judge Martha Christian in Macon that executors had not been able to set up the charity because the will stipulated that all the heirs had to receive their inheritance-$100 per month for life-before the remainder could be used for medical care.
Comer also said the executors had been hampered because the will restricted the estate's investments to ultra-conservative ventures, such as government bonds.
The judge gave the bank the authority to set up the charity, to invest Anderson's money more aggressively, to provide $500 per year for maintaining two family cemetery plots and to increase the heirs' monthly payments to $500.
Bank attorneys expressed concern that the Internal Revenue Service might deny tax-exempt status to the Anderson charity if it is set up to help only black people.
But the judge rejected a suggestion that the will be changed to include all indigent people.
"I think we need to act with all due haste," she said. "In looking at his will, he wants to benefit a class of people who were suffering discrimination. I have a real concern of changing his will."
Should the IRS deny tax-exempt status-a process that could take at least six months-lawyers can reconvene to resolve the issue, she said.
The state attorney general's office has said it is trying to determine whether the estate was mismanaged or neglected. Among other things, the state lawyers questioned whether there should be more money in the account.
"We've got some real concerns on these issues," said Harold Melton, an assistant attorney general who was at the court hearing.
But Melton said the state would not oppose the judge's proposed changes in the Anderson trust.
NationsBank has admitted that some mistakes were made and has agreed to reimburse the account for more than $270,000 in federal income taxes that should not have been paid.
Steve Simpson, manager of NationsBank's trust department in Macon, said the executors were hampered by restrictions in the will.
NationsBank Chairman Hugh L. McColl Jr. pledged $100,000 a year in corporate funds until the charity is set up and able to fulfill Anderson's wishes. He said a local advisory committee will be established to oversee the distribution of the bank's contributions.