Five generations of philanthropy

by | Apr 19, 2019 | Uncategorized

Helen G. Gifford

The Helen G. Gifford Foundation was established in 1997 with a mission to support local Jewish organizations, the arts, and art education.

A lifelong area resident, Helen was born in Portsmouth to Belle and Issac Goodman, owners of The Famous, a women’s fashion store. She had two sisters, Elsie and Zelma.

Helen’s interest in music and the arts began at an early age, according to an article in the UJF News (now Jewish News) in 1995. At the ripe old age of 12, Helen and her sister would take the 5-cent ferry to Norfolk for piano lessons. At Northwestern University, she studied music, and it was there that she met her husband, Joseph Hearst. As a young married woman living in West Virginia, Helen was active in temple and community service and at 23 years old, was appointed to serve on the National Board of the Federation of Temple Sisterhoods.

When the family moved to Norfolk, she became an active member of Ohef Sholom Temple, where she remained an Honorary Director until her death. In 1952, Hearst passed away, and in 1960, she married Lee Gifford.

Throughout her life, Helen worked quietly and often behind the scenes, serving myriad Jewish and art organizations in the community. In the Jewish community, she was a Lion of Judah, contributed to Jewish programing through the Jewish Community Center, Beth Sholom Home’s Gifford Pavilion, outreach to senior adults through Jewish Family Service, established Ohef Sholom Temple’s Music Director’s chair, and so much more.

Prior to the death of her beloved husband, Lee, the couple established the Lee and Helen Gifford Charitable Remainder Trust. The Trust terminated with Lee’s death and Helen marshaled the charitable remainder interests according to a plan of her own design. While her secular interests comprised a large portion of her philanthropy, her devotion to Jewish causes was significant.

Helen passed away in 2001, but her legacy of generosity lives on through her children and grandchildren. Her son, William “Bill” Hearst, now serves as president of the Helen G. Gifford Foundation. He met with Tidewater Jewish Foundation and shared his thoughts about his mother’s enduring legacy.

Tidewater Jewish Foundation:

What is the greatest lesson you learned

from your mother?

Bill Hearst: It may sound simple, but my mother taught me how to share. She believed in philanthropy and community service, so she not only shared her money, she also shared her time. My mother showed me how to give back to our community and it’s a lesson that I have carried with me throughout my life.

TJF: Where did your mother get her passion for philanthropy?

BH: It started with my grandmother, Belle Goodman. Belle was a liberated woman before women were liberated! She made sure that she and her three daughters had their own lines of credit and could make their own financial decisions. She also opened up sales positions for African American women at our family’s business at a time when that was not done. Those may seem like obvious decisions now, but it was practically unheard of. She had financial independence and a strong sense of right versus wrong. As a result, she was very philanthropic.

All three of Belle’s daughters went on to be leaders in their communities. My aunt, Elsie Goodman (of blessed memory) was honored as the Centennial Ambassador of the town of Palm Beach for her many years as a philanthropist and activist. My other aunt, Zelma Goodman Rivin (of blessed memory) was honored as the 57th First Citizen of Portsmouth in honor of her philanthropy and commitment to community service. My mother, Helen (of blessed memory), established her own Foundation and worked tirelessly to support the arts and Jewish organizations in eastern Virginia.

TJF: Was that sense of service and generosity passed on to future generations?

BH: My grandmother, aunts, and mother passed down those values to my sister, cousins, and I. We did our best to follow in their footsteps and in turn, we have instilled those values in the next generations.

I’m very proud to say that my children and grandchildren are actively involved in the Helen G. Gifford Foundation and are well on their way to becoming community leaders in their own right. I’m sure that when my great grandchildren come of age, they will be involved with the Foundation too!

TJF: What did your mother hope to achieve with the Helen G. Gifford Foundation?

BH: My mother rarely turned away an organization that needed support. Her goal was to provide some structure for that generosity and ensure that the programs she loved would be supported in perpetuity.

It was also very important for the family to be as involved as possible so that we would have an opportunity to continue her legacy of giving. The Board is made up of family and close family advisors and includes Patricia M. Rowland (my sister), Joseph B. Hearst (my son), Debbie Hearst (my daughter), Jennifer M. Rosenberg (my niece), Richard A. Rivin (my cousin), Megan Hearst (my granddaughter), and Michael Barney (family advisor). I lead the Board now, but I hope that my children and grandchildren will continue the work after I step aside. It has been a wonderful way to honor my mother and give back to our community.

Since its partnership with the Tidewater Jewish Foundation in 2011, The Helen G. Gifford Foundation has distributed nearly $1.5 million in grants.

Kaitlyn Oelsner

For information about how to create a legacy, contact Kaitlyn Oelsner, at 757-965-6103 or Scott Kaplan, at 757-965-6109.