Three Decades Ago, She Struggled to Pay the Rent

'New York Times Magazine' profiles MacKenzie Scott
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 16, 2022 10:21 AM CDT
Three Decades Ago, She Struggled to Pay the Rent
A 2018 photo of MacKenzie Scott.   (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

A new profile of MacKenzie Scott in the New York Times Magazine points out that 30 years ago, she was putting herself through Princeton as a waitress and worried about paying the rent. At one point, her college roommate, after finding Scott crying on the couch, gave her a $1,000 loan so she wouldn't have to drop out of school. Flash forward to today, and the ex-wife of Jeff Bezos is giving away her billions in such unprecedented fashion that she is upending the world of philanthropy. "She has become arguably the most consequential philanthropist in the world right now—one who is very much operating on her own terms," write Nicholas Kulish and Rebecca R. Ruiz. It's not so much a rags-to-riches story as a riches-to-rags-to-riches-to-deliberate-winnowing-of-riches story.

Scott grew up in a well-to-do family in Connecticut, but the family fell into bankruptcy when Scott was a teen, forcing her to leave a posh boarding school early. The profile traces her journey to Princeton, her mentorship there with novelist Toni Morrison (leading to Scott's own career as a novelist), her decision to take a day job with a hedge fund where she met Bezos, right up to the present day (including her new marriage to a high school chemistry teacher). The story digs into her secretive Lost Horse operation that dispenses her money, noting that it wasn't set up as a foundation required to file tax returns. "Instead, she gave through the lightly regulated vehicles known as donor-advised funds, which meant she could make massive, tax-deductible donations with no transparency requirements." Critics are calling for more transparency, though many are doing so quietly so as not to offend her. (Read the full profile.)

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