SEATTLE — Alan Naiman was known for an unabashed thriftiness that veered into comical, but even those closest to him had no inkling of the fortune that he quietly amassed and the last act that he had long planned.
The Washington state social worker died of cancer this year at age 63, leaving most of a surprising $11 million estate to children's charities that help the poor, sick, disabled and abandoned. The amount baffled the beneficiaries and his best friends, who are lauding Naiman as the anniversary of his death approaches in January.
That's because the Seattle man patched up his shoes with duct tape, sought deals at the grocery store deli at closing time and took his best friends out to lunch at fast-food joints.
Naiman, who died unmarried and childless, loved kids but also was intensely private, scrimping, investing and working extra jobs to stockpile money that he rarely spent on himself after seeing how unfair life could be for the most vulnerable children, his friends say.
They believe a lifelong devotion to his older brother who had a developmental disability influenced Naiman, though he rarely spoke of it. The brother died in 2013, the same year Naiman splurged on a sports car — a modestly priced Scion FR-S.
"Growing up as a kid with an older, disabled brother kind of colored the way he looked at things," close friend Susan Madsen said.
A former banker, Naiman worked the past two decades at the state Department of Social and Health Services, handling after-hours calls. He earned $67,234 and also took on side gigs, sometimes working as many as three jobs. He saved and invested enough to make several millions of dollars and also inherited millions more from his parents, said Shashi Karan, a friend from his banking days.
Thrilled when he finally qualified for senior discounts, Naiman bought his clothes from the grocery store. He loved cars, but for the most of his life, drove beat-up vehicles and seemed to enjoy the solitude and savings of solo road trips, friends say.
After Naiman's death, Karan realized how little he knew of the other aspects of his longtime friend's life.
"I don't know if he was lonely. I think he was a loner," Karan said.
Many of the organizations benefiting from Naiman's gifts said they didn't know him, though they had crossed paths.
He left $2.5 million to the Pediatric Interim Care Center, a private organization in Washington state that cares for babies born to mothers who abused drugs and helps the children wean off their dependence. The group used some of what was its largest donation ever to pay off a mortgage and buy a new vehicle to transport the 200 babies it accepts from hospitals each year.
Naiman had called the centre about a newborn while working for the state more than a decade ago, and its founder, Barbara Drennen, showed up in the middle of the night to get the baby.
"We would never dream that something like this would happen to us. I wish very much that I could have met him. I would have loved to have had him see the babies he's protecting," Drennen said.
Naiman gave $900,000 to the Treehouse foster care organization, telling them that he was a foster parent years ago and had brought kids in his care to the group's popular warehouse, where wards of the state can choose toys and necessities for free.
Treehouse is using Naiman's money to expand its college and career counselling statewide.
"The frugality that he lived through, that he committed to in his life, was for this," said Jessica Ross, Treehouse's chief development officer. "It's really a gift to all of us to see that pure demonstration of philanthropy and love."
Woman hopes to meet recipient of son's heart more than a year after his death
BRAMPTON, Ont. — A Brampton, Ont. woman is hoping to meet the recipient of her son's heart as she seeks closure more than a year after he died of an accidental fentanyl overdose.
Sharon Vandrish said her 23-year-old son, Keerin John Reid, was taken off life support in September 2017 after he was declared brain dead.
She and her son's father decided to donate four of their son's organs, including his heart, through the Trillium Gift of Life Network, Ontario's organ and tissue donation and transplantation service.
"I just knew that (Keerin) would have wanted something good to have come out of this tragedy," said Vandrish.
Six months after the organs were donated, Vandrish wrote a letter to the heart recipient and the two have been corresponding ever since. She also wrote to the other three organ recipients, but they have not replied.
"It's not like I'm trying to hold on to a piece of my son. I know he's gone," she said. "To me, this would just close a loop."
Letters sent between donor and recipient families are reviewed by Trillium to ensure they abide by a series of guidelines, such as not including identifying information, according to agency's website. However, approximate age and gender can be included. While the agency allows donor and recipient families to communicate anonymously, it does not connect them to meet in person.
Representatives from Trillium did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Vandrish said she was feeling sad on Christmas, because of the loss of her son and because she didn't know the identity of the man who now has his heart. She then wrote a post on Reddit to see if she could make contact with the man.
"I was just frustrated at this process I guess," said Vandrish. "I just wanted to reach out and see."
But Vandrish said she hasn't had any luck yet, and for now, she copes with her son's death by going to a support group. She also has her son's thumbprint on a bracelet charm, and she said she plans to get a tattoo to remember his "gift of life." She said the heart recipient sent her an electrocardiogram of his heart about a week ago so she could get it tattooed along with her son's heartbeat from when he was still alive.
"Those are just little things to keep him close and just keep those memories alive," said Vandrish.
She said she also learned through corresponding with the heart recipient that he is a middle-aged father of two, whose brother died about seven years ago of a heart disease similar to the one the recipient was diagnosed with.
She said her son was an avid soccer player and gardener, who eventually took over her backyard to plant flowers, fruits and vegetables.
Vandrish said she received a letter from the recipient that said he had recently taken up gardening shortly after the heart transplant.