Woman's legacy leaves behind $750,000 to help terminally ill children

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- One day in 2016 a brown envelope arrived at the Association for Home & Hospice Care of North Carolina - AHHC - in Raleigh.

The association's CEO Tim Rogers opened it and found a brief document from the Chatham County Clerk of Court.

Rogers read the heading, "A notice of beneficiary to the Association for Home & Hospice Care."

The association had been included in the will of Mary Ellen Dryden, a cancer researcher who Rogers soon learned had a family legacy involving hospice care.

He soon learned she was a descendant of George Eastman of Eastman Kodak photography fame. It turned out Eastman had a hunting lodge in North Carolina's Halifax County. In the 1890s Eastman also used the lodge as the state's first hospice center. It was utilized by sick and grieving friends, relatives and employees.

But, even after doing his research, Rogers initially didn't know the value of Dryden's gift.

Three years later, when the estate was settled and the property sold, Dryden became the biggest benefactor for the nearly 50-year-old association.

"It was a $750,000 endowment. The largest in the history of this association," Rogers told ABC11.

Dryden had a special interest in pediatric cancer so her gift will especially benefit dying children.

That's something Parvathy Krishnan of Raleigh knows something about.

Her four-year-old daughter Ira died in 2018.

"If you were to ever imagine your worst nightmare as a parent it would be watching your child die and watching your child live through hell," Krishnan said in an interview at Transitions LifeCare in the Capital City.

Ira died at home where hospice workers came to help the family and Krishnan may have to do it all over again.

Her 11-year-old son Yash, also has complex medical issues and sometimes is in need of hospice care.

"The only folks who 'get us' and who really can help us are Transitions or palliative care or hospice care because they have seen the toll it takes on families."

So when Krishnan heard about Dryden's generous gift she was moved.

"To think that this amazing lady thought about this community and wanted to support the people that help us live through the worst part of our life is heartwarming and brings tears to my eyes," Krishnan said.

She wasn't the only one crying.

Recently the staff at AHHC gathered in CEO Rogers' office to hear the final tally for the gift was three-quarters of a million dollars.

"It did bring tears to our eyes. My staff and I are huddled in my office. We didn't know what, we were just flabbergasted," he said.

And now it's their job to make sure they fulfill Dryden's legacy.

"It truly was a blessing that fell from the sky and we will do our utmost best to honor Mary Ellen Dryden and do exactly what she wanted us to do for those people that are suffering from cancer, for those children, and for those elderly in hospice."

So Dryden's philanthropy will be managed so that the effort to help people 'die with dignity' will be long-lived.

And hospice officials hope that during National Home Care and Hospice Month many others will be moved to give to hospice.

Donations like Dryden's don't come along often but the 10, 20, 50, and $100 donations from private citizens is what the hospice movement lives on.

If you'd like to give simply click on this link from the AHHC to find a hospice center you would like to help.

It's likely that someday that gift will benefit someone you care about.
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