A Recluse Dies, a Nonprofit Gets Surprise $125M

Surprise donation is major boost to San Francisco's LightHouse for the Blind
By Elizabeth Armstrong Moore,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 24, 2015 7:17 AM CST
Updated Nov 28, 2015 9:30 AM CST
A couple navigates a pathway to get married in Conyers, Ga. Both are legally blind and met at the city's Center for the Visually Impaired in 2007.   (AP Photo/David Goldman)

(Newser) – The email was short, and it caught Bryan Bashin's attention. "A businessman has passed away," it read. "I think you might want to talk to us." The executive director of San Francisco nonprofit LightHouse for the Blind and Visually Impaired says his organization had just been left $125 million—more than 15 times its annual budget—by a stranger in Seattle. "It's one of those experiences where time stands still, where you know that every little bit of what you're experiencing will be engraved in your memory," Bashin tells The Leap, a new podcast series by NPR station KQED in northern California. "This is the moment that everything is going to change."

After extensive interviews and travel, Bashin learned that businessman Donald Sirkin was, like Bashin himself had once been, a "closeted" blind man who did his best to hide his condition from almost everyone who knew him. He ended up a recluse, dying of heart failure alone in his house, undiscovered for days. Bashin plans to use his gift to build a new headquarters and give awards to blind people doing extraordinary things. The Leap, which Popsugar reports is "about what it takes to start out one place and end up somewhere—or someone—else," notes that on the surface the story is "about a generous donation." Yet it's really "a story about being true to who you are and inspiring others to live with confidence." Which is something that Sirkin couldn't do for himself, but through his donation just may help accomplish for many others. (This woman went out of her way to make herself blind.)

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