Although well into his seventies, Merton Henry goes to his Portland law office daily, continuing the estate practice that more than 25 years ago brought him into contact with the Maine Community Foundation
Born in Hampden, Maine, just outside Bangor, Henry moved to South Portland when he was 14 and later graduated from Bowdoin College, the first of his family to receive a BA degree. He left the state for law school, but he always expected to return.
Once ensconced in his law practice, Henry says getting involved in the community was a given. "It's a lawyer's responsibility," he states. Commendations on the wall of his office testify to years of public service by him and his late wife, Judge Harriet P. Henry.
As an estate lawyer who served on the MaineCF board for nine years, Henry finds himself recommending the foundation when clients have an interest in supporting Maine nonprofits. "MaineCF has had an extraordinary track record for investments," he notes.
Henry has also recommended the foundation to clients who may be thinking about starting a private foundation. He recalls a successful Wall Street lawyer who had been helping local libraries and historical societies. The family wanted to continue this giving in perpetuity, and came to Henry to establish a foundation with a little more than a million dollars. "I told them, 'You don't want a foundation, you want a donor-advised fund." Now, every year, a committee consisting of the lawyer's children and friends reviews grants with MaineCF staff members, continuing his philanthropy.
Henry also finds himself suggesting the foundation when clients have a cause, but there is no appropriate institution handling the issue. "In that case, I have encouraged people to set up a fund at MaineCF and let them get proposals and make grants according to some sort of discipline," he explains. "Discipline in grantmaking is very important," he adds.
"MaineCF knows Maine as well as any institution in the state," Henry asserts. He points to its statewide mission, vision, and presence. "It's one of the reasons I'm so enthused about it: the foundation probably has a better handle in both urban and very rural areas than any other organization in the state today." Henry cites the creation of the Maine Compact for Higher Education as an example of how MaineCF can help bring about change on a large scale.
"MaineCF has an extraordinarily talented staff and board," Henry concludes. "It's the largest group of people that I know of in Maine who are really focused on building and dispersing philanthropic resources."
Henry has a bequest to MaineCF written into his estate. His legacy is completely unrestricted—a token of his trust in the foundation, and of his wish to build up MaineCF's unrestricted endowment. "The board will know where the needs are," he says with a certainty born of experience and expertise.