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Thoughtfulness was a way of life for Eleanor "Ellie" Sweet; she brought out the best in others and made them feel treasured, according to her long-time friend and self-described soul mate, Norm Jackson.
"She had something nice to say to everyone – even in the checkout at the grocery store," he said. "People would light up talking with her."
Although Ellie died in May of 2002, others continue to benefit from her thoughtfulness – especially the children of St. Jude – through the Eleanor B. Sweet Fund.
"Ellie was always interested in St. Jude and had given to the hospital for many years. We always knew she would care for the hospital in her estate," Norm said. After discussing her options with an attorney, Ellie decided to arrange for a donor advised fund (DAF) to be set up from her estate, through her local community foundation, with Norm as the trustee. "She liked the idea that the money she left would continue to grow and St. Jude and others could benefit every year, on into the future," he said.
DAFs are charitable giving vehicles administered by a third party, such as a community foundation or investment bank. The principal used to establish the fund is invested, and income from earnings fund grants to charities such as St. Jude.
"Ellie never had children of her own, but she always loved both children and animals, and their care was very important to her," Norm said. "She particularly liked St. Jude, and that the hospital didn't charge families (for what insurance does not cover) – she thought that was very important."
Ellie identified with families who might have difficulty paying medical bills because she had risen from humble roots. In 1953, she began working as a personal assistant for Stephen Briggs, co-founder of Briggs & Stratton and founder of Outboard Marine Corp. She was astute in finances, and handled Mr. Briggs' finances until his death in 1976.
Ellie lived in a comfortable home on the bay in Naples, Fla., while Norm had a successful construction business in Fort Lauderdale. The two briefly met in 1960, when he came to the city to help it rebuild after Hurricane Donna. Then, 15 years later he was again doing business in Naples when the two, now both divorced, began seeing one another.
"We fell in love, and she was the greatest thing that ever happened to me," he said. For the next 25 years, Norm drove the 105 miles between the two cities every weekend so they could be together.
"It was the way I renewed myself and recharged, both spiritually and mentally. She was brilliant and just delightful."
Norm said that Ellie "loved the stock market and everything about it, and did well with it," but lived a relatively simple life. "She had a beautiful little house right on the bay, and when I suggested places we could travel, she would just ask 'what's better than this?'"
Norm said he misses Ellie greatly, but he takes comfort in knowing that the Eleanor B. Sweet Fund is carrying out her intentions to help others, just as she did in life.