Mrs. Helen Brown was the first major donor to Project: North America, almost 20 years ago. She called us asking to sponsor the Arctic Fox collection in memory of her husband.
When a stroke, at about 90, necessitated her move into a Raleigh retirement facility, Springmoor, I started visiting. We became friends. In recovery, she learned to write left-handed. Later, a broken left wrist got her writing right-handed again and leading her exercise class at Springmoor.
She taught children and adults English as a Second Language. She stayed active in her book club and her churches.
She celebrated life, initiating a Zoo visit and staff tour for Springmoor residents. She asked me to speak at its lecture series. She toured the Zoo with me for her 95th birthday. At 96, she attended her 75th high school reunion. When her legs finally faltered, she raced down Springmoor's halls to show that her walker would steady, but never stop her.
She asked me to her big 100th birthday party at a local tea room. I took her flowers on her 103rd birthday and saw pictures of “her” Arctic Foxes resting near the wheelchair where she sat and, often, slept. Mrs. Brown peacefully stopped breathing July 13, 2005.
At the request of Duke Medical Center, Mrs. Brown left her brain to researchers studying Alzheimer's Disease. They wanted to study a model of a healthy aging brain. She left 24 gifts to loved ones, 29 more to non-profits to support scholarships for needy (often female) students of modern-languages; a college library; programs that prevent child abuse, study AIDS, care for people and animals, sponsor symphonies and chamber music and benefit churches and literacy and more.
Her two largest bequests (each for $100,000 and half of the residual estate) went to the Wake County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and to the N.C. Zoo Society.