Famous Last Words…
Editor’s note: Oil and gas man Michael L. Benedum and his wife Sarah created the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation in memory of their only child who died in 1918 at the age of 20. On the anniversary of the Foundation, which has distributed more than $500 million in philanthropy to Pittsburgh and West Virginia, we recall the insight and wisdom of Benedum, as recorded in the Fifth Codicil to his Last Will & Testament.
The disposition of a not inconsiderable estate is never an easy assignment.
It has been a thorny & laborious problem for me because, recognizing my frailty & inadequacy, I have not been able to lose sight of the awesome responsibility involved.
If I could have looked upon my material goods as personal property, belonging to me alone, my task would have been immeasurably lighter. But I have never regarded my possessions in that light. Providence gives no fee simple title to such possessions…I have always felt that I have been only a trustee for such material wealth as Providence has placed in my hands. This trusteeship has weighed heavily upon me. In carrying out this final responsibility of my stewardship, I have sought to utilize such wisdom and understanding of equity as the Creator has given me. No one with any regard for his responsibility to his God and his fellow man should do less. No one can do more.
As I have seen it, life is but a proving ground where Providence tests the character and mettle of those He places upon the earth. The whole course of mortal existence is a series of problems, sorrows & difficulties. If that existence be rightly conducted, it becomes a progress towards the fulfillment of human destiny. We must pass through darkness to reach the light.
Throughout my adult life, day by day & year by year, I have been instilled with the conviction that wealth cannot be measured in terms of money, stocks, bonds, broad acres or by ownership of mine and mill. These cannot bear testimony to the staple of real excellence of man or woman. Those who use a material yardstick to appraise their wealth and foolishly imagine themselves to be rich are objects of pity. In their ignorance and misanthropic isolation, they suffer from shrinkage of the soul.
All of us aspire to a higher and better life beyond this, but I feel that the individual who seeks to climb the ladder alone will never find the way to Paradise. Only those who sustain the faltering ones on the rungs above and extend a helping hand to the less fortunate on the rungs below, can approach the end with the strength of sublime faith and confidence.
At the end of life each of us must face the great teacher that we call death. Stern, cold & irresistible, it walks the earth in dread mystery and lays its hands upon all. The wealth of empires cannot stay its approach. As I near my rendezvous with this common leveler of mankind, which takes prince and pauper alike to the democracy of the grave, I do so with resignation to the will of God, and with faith in His eternal justice.
Life has been sweet to me…sweet in the loved ones that have been mine, sweet in the friends who have surrounded me & rewarding in the opportunities that have come my way. I could not leave this earth with any degree of happiness and satisfaction if I felt that I had not tried to bring some of these joys to those less fortunate than I have been.
We know not where seed may sprout. In the poorest and most unregarded child who seems to be abandoned to ignorance and evil, there may slumber virtue, intellect and genius. It is our duty to sow and to nurture, leaving it to others to harvest the fruits of our efforts….
…Conscious that in this Codicil to my Last Will & Testament, I am figuratively speaking from the grave, and that the great book of my account with the Creator has been closed beyond change or amendment, I submit my soul to His tender mercy, and my memory to the generosity & compassion of my fellow man.
—Michael L. Benedum