Anne Tanenbaum: Maclean's 1995 Honor Roll

When asked why she gives her money away, 86-year-old Anne Tanenbaum avoids grand pronouncements. Instead, she shrugs her shoulders and tells a story, inflected with just a hint of her native New York City accent.

Tanenbaum, Anne: Maclean's 1995 Honor Roll

When asked why she gives her money away, 86-year-old Anne Tanenbaum avoids grand pronouncements. Instead, she shrugs her shoulders and tells a story, inflected with just a hint of her native New York City accent. When she was only five years old, her widower father, a strict businessman, put her in charge of paying the milkman every week. She performed the chore faithfully for weeks, she says, until one day a stranger knocked on the door. "He said he had five children, and they were starving, and there's no money - could I help them out?" she recalls. "And I thought, 'I'll give him the milk money.' " When her father returned from work, he praised her for giving the man money - but chided her for giving it all away. Yet she made no apologies. Recalls Tanenbaum: "I said, 'But five children? You've got to help them.' "

More than 80 years later, that simple philosophy of helping out still drives Tanenbaum - although the scale of giving has ballooned from milk money to millions of dollars, touching the lives of countless Canadians. In 1924, after moving to Toronto with her father, she met and married Max Tanenbaum, then a budding entrepreneur who went on to amass a fortune in steel fabrication and real estate before his death in 1983. Today, Anne Tanenbaum still lives in the lakeside Toronto condominium that her husband built 19 years ago - and she has quietly become one of Canada's most generous philanthropists.

The Tanenbaum family is part of the cultural fabric of Toronto. Anne and her six children all give generously to charities and to cultural institutions, including the Canadian Opera Company and the Art Gallery of Ontario, which has been a special beneficiary of the family's largesse. All told, the family has donated more than $50 million to the gallery; the Sculpture Atrium - including two Rodins - the European Masters collection and the gallery art school all bear the Tanenbaum name. She, herself, has donated many paintings acquired through her long-standing interest in art. "I thought, I want to give them to the gallery," she says simply, "because then everybody will see them."

And then there are the scientific and scholarly grants. Among them, she has established chairs in molecular and developmental biology at Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital and in cognitive neuroscience at the city's Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care - helping to put Canadian scientists on the cutting edge of research into diseases that threaten the lives of thousands. In October, Tanenbaum made her most generous gift yet - the $10-million Anne and Max Tanenbaum Joint Chair Program, which will establish five medical chairs for research in molecular medicine and neuroscience at the University of Toronto and four Toronto hospitals. The private donation is one of the largest in Canadian research history and, Tanenbaum hopes, might lead to a cure for Alzheimer's disease, which has afflicted several of her friends and relatives. "The need is so great," she explains. "To see those people, who can't use their minds at all, I said, 'I'll give all I can.' "

When talking about herself, she is the picture of modesty. But there is a sense - something in her vivacity, or her sense of humor, or her clear intelligence - that doing good is innate to Tanenbaum. Consider her reaction to the suggestion that she could easily leave all her money to her 22 grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. "But then, what will they do with it?" she replies. "They'll buy bigger cars, or bigger houses - that's what it amounts to." Instead, she is creating a legacy not merely of wealth, but of something that she hopes will prove of greater worth. "Once you're gone, your money can't do anything," says Tanenbaum matter-of-factly. "Right now, it can do a lot of good."

Maclean's December 18, 1995