Granddaughter carries on family’s legacy of giving in Milwaukee

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The Lindsay family has a storied history in Milwaukee. Scotland native Walter Lindsay moved to Milwaukee at age 25 and helped found Lindsay-McMillan Oil Company, Goodwill Industries and the village of River Hills. He served on the boards of Northwestern Mutual Life and Briggs & Stratton and led the Milwaukee Country Club.

But it was the decision Lindsay made in his retirement to create a private family foundation that truly made an impression on his granddaughter, Catherine Mayer.

"I always felt extremely glad that he had been willing to share what he had with those less fortunate," Mayer said. "I liked what that said about him, his concern for the community and other people."

Lindsay started the foundation in 1970 to support agencies that served the "poor, unfortunate and underprivileged" in Wisconsin and the visually impaired. His only daughter and Catherine’s mother, Lorna Mayer, helped administer the foundation as he grew older. After Lindsay died in 1975, however, it eventually became too much for Lorna to handle.

She transferred the assets to the Greater Milwaukee Foundation in 1994 and created the Catherine and Walter Lindsay Foundation Fund, a donor advised fund. Catherine became involved before the fund was created, but it wasn’t until after her mother passed away in 2002 that she assumed the role of carrying on the family’s legacy.

"It feels like a great privilege and a blessing to me to be in a position to be able to do this," said Mayer, a psychiatrist who lives in Hudson and does her grantmaking over the phone with Marybeth Budisch, her philanthropic adviser. "I couldn’t do this on my own, that’s for sure,” said Mayer, "I wouldn’t have the time or the knowledge."

The fund has given to a myriad of agencies over the years, based on its original mission. It has also stood out in its willingness to fund new agencies and projects the Foundation has also supported. In fact, it was one of the first funds to do so. Mayer credits the Foundation with the tremendous impact the fund has had. Since 1994, it has given out more than $4.2 million in grants, which exceeds the value of the fund when it was started.

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