Letty Murray: Subtly Extraordinary

There was nothing average about Letty Murray. She was subtly extraordinary and inspired many to mirror her generosity, kindness and responsibility. In her nearly ten decades of life, she created relationships which were woven into the fabric of giving.

Before Laetitia ‘Letty’ Meachem Murray was born, her family was already known for greatness and generosity. She was a descendant of Joshua Forman, who incorporated the City of Syracuse and was its first mayor. Her grandfather, T.W. Meachem, started New Process Gear and later donated land for what would become Meachem School and Meachem Field in Syracuse. Being born with such roots created a path that led to Letty’s own brand of philanthropy.

Letty gave much of her time to local institutions. She founded the Historic Oakwood Cemetery Preservation Association (HOPCA) in 1991 to care for the cemetery. She recruited members like Connie Palumb to help out. Letty was the president of HOPCA for nearly twenty years, well into her 90’s. Then one day, she leaned over to Connie and asked her for a favor. Connie replied, as anyone would to Letty, “Certainly!” What happened next was unexpected: Letty asked her to take over as HOPCA president.

Connie recalls, “Letty gave the impression of being low-key or understated but in reality, she was a tenacious, motivating leader.” In 2015, the Silsbee Chapel garden was dedicated to Letty. The dedication plaque reads, “Letty’s Garden honoring Letty Meachem Murray; Guiding light and Inspiration for the Historic Oakwood Cemetery Preservation Association.” She was 95 at the dedication, looking lively and surrounded by family.

Letty and her family at the dedication of her garden at Oakwood Cemetery.

Letty was also an esteemed member and board president (1987-1989) of the Social Art Club, a women’s club dedicated to the study of art in a group setting. The group, founded in 1875, has been funding art and supporting the Everson Museum of Art for many years. Linda Cohen, president of the Social Art Club from 1991-2001, relied on Letty’s openness as past president. Cohen remembers her fondly and stated, “You had to know her to know how effective she was.”

The list of Letty’s impact goes on to include the Onondaga Historical Association, where she spent much of her time, and the Syracuse Garden Club. She was also membership chair and docent at the Everson. It is no surprise that she earned The Post Standard’s “Woman of Achievement” award in 1977.

“You had to know her to know how effective she was.”

—Linda Cohen, Social Art Club

Her husband, Hallam Gillis “Gil” Murray, was also involved in the community, serving as council member and board chair for several organizations. Gil served on a committee for the Dr. Allen Speiser Memorial Fund for Vocational Rehabilitiation, which led both Gil and Letty to a relationship with the Community Foundation.

On December 30, 1960, Gil and Letty created the first donor-advised fund (DAF) at the Community Foundation — the H. Gillis and Letty M. Murray Fund — by using the cash balance of a paid-up life insurance policy. In 1960, DAFs were still relatively new across the country, having been introduced by the New York Community Trust in 1931 as a way of engaging donors. But it hadn’t caught on in CNY until Letty and Gil became DAF trailblazers. The Community Foundation now houses more than 230 donor-advised funds, making Letty once again the guiding light for so many.

Letty and Gil, who married young, had three sons and one daughter. Their wedding photo depicts Letty in her grandmother’s wedding dress, standing on the steps of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Even though Letty was active in her community, she was always supportive of her husband and children.

Letty posing with her wedding photo.

Letty passed away in 2019 at the grand age of 99. Long before that, she continued her tradition of trailblazing leadership and generosity by deciding to convert her DAF into a Community Fund upon her passing. A community fund is designed for maximum community impact. Giving without restrictions to a community fund ensures that gifts will support the community’s greatest needs today and in the future. The Community Foundation depends on these broadly responsive community-focused funds to proactively address the evolving needs of the community and support innovative responses.

The result is that Letty and Gil’s fund will now help the greatest needs in our community for generations to come, keeping their legacies of generosity alive.

Letty has been described as quiet, tenacious, friendly, mischievous, inspiring and as having a deep connection to community. Now, Letty’s legacy lives on in perpetuity through her fund and through the mark she made on the many organizations to which she donated so much time and energy.

For more information on DAFs or Community Funds, please visit here.

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