The Legacy of a Humble Man

Millard H. Wilson Jr. was, by all accounts, a humble man who never sought attention. Nearly a year after the former telephone repairman's death at age 69, he's suddenly getting plenty of attention—with more to come.

Wilson, a Severna Park resident who retired after 35 years with the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co., left an astonishing legacy to Baltimore Washington Medical Center: an estate valued at more than $2 million.

Officials at the Glen Burnie hospital, who announced the donation last week, will place his name on a plaque in the critical care unit of the patient tower under construction, part of a $117 million building project scheduled for completion early next year.

"It is the largest estate gift the medical center has ever received," said Beth Peters, executive director of the hospital's foundation. "Words cannot describe how grateful we are for Mr. Wilson's gift."

Part of the crew that in 1965 installed the phone system at the hospital, Wilson lived with his parents, Grace Myers Wilson and M. Hamilton Wilson, on nearly 3 acres that the family purchased along Cypress Creek in the 1940s.

He enjoyed crabbing, fishing, and gardening, said Charleen Keitel, the Wilson family representative and a close family friend, and spent much of his free time working on his pride and joy, a 1956 wooden cabin cruiser.

"We have been taking care of each other for 48 years," Wilson wrote in notes he left behind. The Polly Anna II , which may have honored his mother's nickname, Polly (for her fondness for chatting), remains in perfect running order.

The Wilson estate includes the boat, family home, and two rental houses that Hamilton Wilson built; the land holdings are worth about $1.7 million, Keitel said. The rest he saved over the years, building a stock portfolio and IRAs.

"He and his father bought telephone stock over the years," she said, "and when the phone company diversified in 1984, Millard kept all those little phone companies."

Bill Kerney, his neighbor for 20 years, said Wilson was frugal but not cheap.

"He believed two things: things that have value shouldn't be thrown away, and living life in the the traditional way. He has this old lawn mower that he could have easily gotten rid of, " Kerney said, "but he kept repairing it because it was his father's."

"He would give you the shirt off his back and insist that he get nothing in return," said Kerney who, unlike Wilson, was not a fisherman.

"But," he said, "I was the beneficiary of everything he caught."

His generosity extended further. Keitel recalled that Wilson caught and cooked crabs every Sunday for an elderly friend of his mother's. During the last year of the woman's life, he provided for her care with a monthly check for $2,000.

"Even when he was not well and in a nursing home, he made sure that I got the money to her," Keitel said.

Wilson was his mother's caregiver until her death in the fall of 2004. She would have been 100 years old the following spring.

"We should all wish for a son like him," said Keitel.

Wilson felt a deep connection to BWMC, having been treated there for lung cancer during the final two years of his life.

"He was dying of cancer, and he still took time to thank everyone," said Kerney, who accompanied him to his treatments.

The new tower's second-floor critical care unit, which will increase the medical center's intensive-care beds for monitored patients to 36—the total bed count in the new tower is 111—is one of the three additions and improvements under way. The third floor will be dedicated to women's health and will return obstetrical care to the medical center with an 18-bed obstetrics unit, for the first time since shortly after it opened. The 15,000-square-foot emergency department expansion, located in the main hospital wing, is expected to open this summer.

The Conservation Fund, a national environmental organization, is now working with the hospital to encourage Anne Arundel County to buy the Wilson property and use it as parkland.

"Beth and I have worked very hard to try to get the land preserved in some way," Keitel said. One option being considered is to us the land as a canoe and kayak launch site.

BWMC is not Wilson's only beneficiary: He also left $100,000 to his mother's church, St. Margaret's Episcopal Church on Pleasant Plains Road in Annapolis.

"He was a marvelous guy," said Kerney, " a unique guy, especially in this day and age."