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Orrin MacLeod, RIP

[Original post 11-12-05 by John Ottinger]

Extraordinary Chapter in an Ordinary Life; Fairfax Man Arranged $1 Million Gift to Library Before He Died

[Copyright (c) The Washington Post Company, May 1, 1997 by Eric Lipton. Staff writer Peter Finn contributed to this report.]

Orrin W. Macleod was an ordinary guy, a Marine veteran without a college education who spent most of his adult life working on the ground crew at National Airport.

But he invested his money wisely. And he loved to read.

So before he died in 1994 at age 58 of leukemia, he decided to donate most of his lifetime savings and inherited wealth to the Fairfax County Public Library.

That $1 million — by far the largest gift ever to the state’s most
extensive library system — is being formally turned over to the county
library foundation today.

The money, at Macleod’s request, will be invested in books on tape, which he used near the end of his life when his vision was impaired. “It was his wish to enhance the collection so that many others could enjoy recorded books as well,” said T.D. Hobart IV, a friend who is managing the trust set up in Macleod’s name.

Macleod, a native of Glasgow, Scotland, had inherited money from his family, but much of his wealth came from his “40 years of hard work, frugality and wise investments,” Hobart said.

Macleod moved to the United States when he was 10 years old. After a tour of duty in the Marine Corps, he spent nine years sailing with the merchant marine. After settling in Fairfax, he worked 23 years as a baggage handler and on the ground crew for Eastern Airlines, before it went bankrupt.

As a young man, Macleod was accepted at Columbia University, Hobart said, but he never attended. He spent his adult life reading on subjects such as anthropology, geography and astronomy. He also collected antique firearms.

He was known as a man with a sharp wit and a fine sense of humor, always sharing stories with his friends about his many trips around the world with the merchant marine and to all 50 states.

He was a rugged outdoorsman who liked to hike and climb, and once spent three months in the bush in New Guinea, Hobart said.

“He always had something interesting to say and could converse with anyone on any subject or level,” said Hobart, who worked with Macleod on the ground crew. “He lightened the load for everyone.

“Any place that was new or exciting he would go, to see something he had not seen, to learn something he didn’t know.”

About a year before he died, Macleod read a newspaper article saying that Fairfax libraries were setting up a nonprofit foundation. He called to say he was interested in making a donation, said Karen Coleman, the foundation’s executive director.

Macleod met with library officials at a Denny’s restaurant on Route 1 to
discuss his gift, showing up in khaki pants and a plaid shirt.

“There was nothing flashy about him,” said county library Director Edwin S. Clay III. “He was a salt-of-the-earth kind of a guy.

Macleod was seriously ill at the time and knew he did not have long to live. He told the library director that as an avid reader whose vision was now impaired, he had drawn a great deal of pleasure from being able to check out recorded books.

The result was the $1 million gift, which outdistances the previous largest individual donation of about $5,000, Coleman said.

Circulation managers at the Sherwood Regional Library and Martha Washington Library, which Macleod frequented, did not remember much about the big-chested, mustachioed Macleod.

Some of the longtime staff members at Sherwood think they recognize Macleod, based on a picture taken of him when he was on a mountain trail in Kauai, Hawaii. But they didn’t remember his name or much else about him.

“We serve hundreds and hundreds of people every day, and often we do not realize the impact public libraries have on individual lives,” Sherwood branch manager Liz Promen said. “His gift to the library now will continue to bring pleasure to the lives of others. That is a wonderful memorial.”

Recorded books are one of the most popular items in the library collection, given “our high-paced, urban, Beltway life,” Promen said.

The unabridged tapes cost about $80 each, so using only the interest
generated from the gift, the county will be able to buy about 500 copies a year. They will be distributed among the county’s 19 libraries.

The county had eliminated all purchases of books on tape two years ago because of budget troubles, but it has restored some money and is planning to spend $100,000 of its own funds in the next fiscal year to buy them.

For Esther White, who was at the Fairfax City branch yesterday evening, Macleod’s gesture was more than welcome, it was timely.

“I love books on tape, but I wish they had a better selection,” said White, 56, of Burke. “I don’t have time to sit down and read, but books on tape are very, very relaxing, especially when you’re fighting traffic on the way to work.”

Jane Lawson, who was browsing in the books on tape section at the Fairfax City branch, said Macleod’s donation was “marvelous.”

“Books on tape are really very appealing to me because I have {multiple sclerosis} and lost sight in one of my eyes,” said Lawson, 51, of Reston. “Books on tape is a fantastic idea, and that’s a wonderful thing he did.”

[Submitted by John Ottinger]