UW gets gift of $3 million

Something else that Seattle native Meg Greenfield wrote - apart from her decades worth of Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post editorials and her Newsweek columns - is causing a stir: her will.

Greenfield, who died of lung cancer last May at age 68, left nearly $3 million to the University of Washington's department of classics.

When Stephen Hinds, department chairman, received word of the gift via e-mail, he said, "I read it a first time, then a second time, and then I called the person on the phone and asked, `Am I dreaming?' "

That was six months ago. Hinds said the news was kept mum until recently, upon the closure of Greenfield's will. And it's nothing short of earthshaking for the UW's liberal-arts departments, whose members are used to seeing the gravy go to computer, biotechnology and business-related fields.

Her bequest is one of the university's largest donations, and by far the largest for the classics department.

"We're more used to getting gifts the size of a couple hundred dollars here, a couple hundred there," Hinds said.

The gift, estimated at $2.9 million, consists of:

$1.75 million to be used for scholarships and fellowships.

Greenfield's summer home on Bainbridge Island, which was the setting for large gatherings, drawing local and national luminaries. The house now will be used for scholarly retreat and study.

A $500,000 endowment to maintain the house.

Each year for the last decade of her life, Greenfield had been donating scholarship money to the UW's classics department.

"She had hinted that she would continue to take care of us," Hinds said. "But it completely took us by surprise and flabbergasted us when the will was published. She did much more than that."

Although she was born in Seattle and grew up on Capitol Hill, Greenfield had no direct connection to either the department or the UW.

"In midlife, she started taking time out from editing the paper to learn Latin in her spare time, and to devote her interest in the ancient Greek and Roman worlds," Hinds noted.

Joe Greenguard, a Seattle friend of Greenfield's since childhood and one of the executors of her will, explained that her late brother, Jim, for whom the scholarship is named, was a UW student in the 1940s. She also had become a close friend of former UW President William Gerberding.

Greenguard added, "Also, this was her home."

Upon her death last year, Greenfield was lionized by those ranging from Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates to columnist David Broder to President Clinton as a giant in the field of journalism and a woman of eloquence and wit.

"She had no children and was never married. She was a workaholic," Greenguard said of Greenfield. "She was a spectacular, very unusual woman, very personable, bright, astute, fair - and she wanted to see things done right."

Mark Rahner's phone message number is 206-464-8259. His e-mail address is mrahner@seattletimes.co.