In death, woman gives $5M


POSTED: Saturday, January 23, 2010

A 94-year-old investor and world traveler who called Hawaii home has donated her life savings of $5 million to six charities that touched her life.

Ruth Clark Little, who died in December 2008, had no survivors and was a private woman who would have cringed at the attention brought by her donations, said her friend and co-trustee of the estate, Sarah Nordwall.

But Nordwall wanted to share her story.

“;She deserves this because she is helping so many people,”; she said.

Little's trust will be divided into $825,000 for each of the six nonprofits: Hawaiian Humane Society and the Hawaii chapters of the National Kidney Foundation, Muscular Dystrophy Association, American Red Cross, the Salvation Army and American Cancer Society.

All the money must stay in Hawaii and will be presented to the organizations during a luncheon Wednesday.

“;It comes at a most opportune time,”; said Coralie Matayoshi, chief executive officer of the Red Cross in Hawaii, adding that the donation will shore up funding gaps caused by reduced donations during the recession.

“;There's just so many things that the Red Cross does that we don't have funding for,”; she said. “;We really appreciate it.”;

; Little's donation is also the largest gift ever received in the 21-year history of the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii, prompting the organization to start a giving society in her name.

“;We felt we needed to honor her,”; said Diana Pinard, the foundation's director of organizational planning and operations. “;She'll be honored regularly. ... Our gratitude knows no bounds.”;

She said Little's donation will help screen more residents for kidney disease.

In Hawaii one out of seven residents have kidney disease, a rate 30 percent higher than the national average.

“;That's what we're trying to catch with screening,”; Pinard said. “;Kidney disease is a silent killer.”;

The free screenings will help the foundation detect kidney disease in its early stages. Treatment for late stages of the disease can cost more than $100,000 a year until the patient receives a new kidney or dies, Pinard said.

Little chose the six charities because they were each part of her life.

Born in 1914, she grew up in a wealthy family in Ridgewood, N.J. In 1938 the American Red Cross and Salvation Army helped her community after a deadly hurricane slammed into the East Coast, Nordwall said.

In 1956 Little came to Hawaii and married her second husband, a United Airlines pilot. He became ill and had liver and kidney problems before dying in the late 1970s. Little never remarried.

She also loved Dalmatians, winning several awards with her dogs, Nordwall said.

Late in life, Little survived a battle with cancer.

While living in Hawaii, she managed a restaurant at an Outrigger Hotel in Waikiki and built her savings through investing and real estate.

An extensive traveler, Little took several trips a year to South America or Europe, including an annual voyage to different destinations to fly in a hot-air balloon.

A Diamond Head and Kahala resident, Little moved into Arcadia Retirement Home a few years before dying of natural causes.

“;She was a very private person,”; said Nordwall, who manages her estate along with Little's friend of 25 years, Roy Bright. “;She was a lady of few words.”;

Still, Little stayed in touch with those she met in her travels and continued to visit them or see them when they came to Hawaii.

“;She was just a fantastic lady,”; Nordwall said, “;full of life, and before her time as a business lady.”;