When Sylvia Bloom died at the age of 96 in 2016, her niece experienced an "oh my God" moment. "I realized she had millions and she had never mentioned a word," says Jane Lockshin, also the executor of Bloom's estate. More than $9 million, in fact, a surprising amount to amass considering Bloom was a legal secretary for nearly 70 years—and an amount that has allowed her to "join the ranks of unassuming and magnanimous millionaires next door, who have died with fortunes far larger than their lifestyles ever would have suggested," per the New York Times. How the Brooklynite built up her surprise nest egg, one that even her late husband may not have known about: by closely observing the investments of the lawyers she worked for, then making the same investments (but in amounts she could afford).
Bloom's riches came to light when her will revealed she was donating more than $8 million to scholarship funds that help disadvantaged students attend college. "We were all ... just blown away," says David Garza, executive director of the Henry Street Settlement, which received the bulk of Bloom's money—$6.24 million, said to be the largest single endowment by one person his group had ever received. No one suspected Bloom harbored socialite-level bank accounts because she lived frugally in a rent-controlled apartment, took public transit, and dressed modestly. "She was a child of the Depression and she knew what it was like not to have money," says a good friend and HR exec at the law firm Bloom worked for. "She had great empathy for other people who were needy and wanted everybody to have a fair shake." (Meet Percy Ross, America's "blue-collar millionaire.")