Honoring a very touching gift

I love reading stories in the news like this one about Jeff Bezos’ recent $1 million gift to a local nonprofit serving homeless women. But it’s not just the super-rich who can make large gifts to support their favorite causes. Planned giving, a term used to describe a philanthropic gift made through a person’s estate plans – a bequest in a will, for example – offers many of us the opportunity to leave a much larger gift to charity than we could ever make in our lifetime. The extraordinarily generous estate gift the Rivkin Center recently received from a man named James Harting is an excellent example of this.

For more than 38 years, James Adam Harting, an Army vet, lived a quiet life with his wife, Loraine in Dayton, Washington, where they operated a successful seed cleaning business that he established in the early 1980s. Jim became good friends with many of the farmers that he worked with and looked forward to occasionally leaving his hometown to travel the world with Loraine and another couple. Then, in May of 2000, Jim was diagnosed with kidney cancer.

This devastating blow was mitigated somewhat by the care that Jim received from Dr. Saul Rivkin, who became Jim’s oncologist at the Swedish Cancer Institute and a good friend. Saul treated Jim’s cancer with his typical gusto – leaving no stone unturned to identify the best possible treatment plan. The approach worked for more than 11 years – his cancer stayed in remission and he and Loraine traveled to Seattle for follow-up visits until Saul retired from his medical practice in 2013. Unfortunately, however, Jim’s cancer returned in 2011 and on September 21, 2015, he lost his battle with the disease.

Before he passed, Jim talked with Loraine about making a gift in his will to honor his relationship with his longtime doctor and friend, and to help reduce the pain and suffering caused by cancer, a disease that has touched many members of the Harting family.  Jim left the Rivkin Center the proceeds of the sale of his farm, and the $536,000 gift that Rivkin received this spring as a result of this bequest became one of the largest single gifts in our organization’s history. The Rivkin team was blown away by the news of this incredible gift, and no one was more touched to learn about it than Saul.

Saul and I drove over to Walla Walla last month to visit Jim’s widow, Loraine, and to celebrate Jim’s memory and his generosity. In the midst of enjoying dinner and sharing stories, we were proud to share with Loraine that her husband’s gift will help the Rivkin Center make a record 17 scientific grants in 2016, and that we will name an annual $75,000 Pilot Study Award in Mr. Harting’s memory in perpetuity, or until ovarian cancer is cured.

The first annual James A. Harting Pilot Award recipient will be named next spring and will become the first permanently named grant awarded by the Rivkin Center. It’s a small way to say thank you to a man whose generosity has made a tremendous impact on our organization and the ovarian cancer research community, but it’s something that all of us at the Rivkin Center are humbled and honored to do.