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Meryl Townes
MSK grateful patient and Cullum Society Member

Couple’s Gift Creates Enduring Legacy

Meryl and Ed Townes

Meryl and Ed Townes

As I recovered from my surgery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) as a teenager in 1963, my favorite part of each day was when my doctor would bring his handsome young residents—recent medical school graduates—into my room for daily rounds.

I loved those moments—I even asked my mom to bring my mascara and lipstick so I could be ready for them when they came in!

The complex operation to remove the tumor in my leg was a success, but I had come a long way to get to that point. Months earlier, I started feeling pain in my right leg. When it got worse, my mother took me to an orthopedist in New Jersey, who diagnosed me with cancer. The only way to save me, he said, was to amputate my leg.

I was devastated. But my mom was a formidable woman who would not accept such a painful compromise so easily! She took me to meet with three more orthopedists in New Jersey, and when they all also said that, based on the x-rays, amputation was the only option, my mother insisted on a referral to MSK.

At MSK, we met with Dr. Kenneth Coulter Francis. He was the “buck stops here” guy. If he couldn't help you, nobody could.

The late Dr. Francis was the first physician who insisted on a biopsy and ultimately diagnosed me with an extremely rare condition: giant-cell tumor of the bone. He told me, “I've only heard of three cases of this—and I'm treating two of them now" The tumor was benign. I did not have cancer.

Still, it would require a complicated and daring operation to remove the tumor and spare my leg. Dr. Francis believed he could do it. He gave my mother and me hope. In the end, through an experimental procedure that involved removing the tumor and inserting a metal rod in my leg, Dr. Francis was able to save my leg and my future quality of life.

It was a long recovery to get back on my feet, but in time I was walking. And before long, I graduated from college with a degree in Medical Technology. A few years later, I made a trip to Las Vegas to visit my cousin. Everything was so new and different to me, and I made the adventurous decision to move there. That's where I met Ed, my now-husband of 48 years, and Las Vegas is still our home.

People always say Ed and I balance each other out perfectly. I'm chatty and outgoing, and Ed is pensive and quiet. And although Ed isn't one to talk much about his feelings, he has found a profound and meaningful way to show them.

Ed had been making small gifts in my honor to MSK for more than two decades, but I had had no idea until it came time to sort out our estate plans. That was when Ed suggested that we include MSK in our will. For Ed, a bequest was a way to show his gratitude to MSK for making my life as it is today possible—and a way for his love for me to be part of an enduring legacy.

I was so touched by his idea, and agreed right away that we should both include MSK in our wills. I saw a planned gift as a way to give back to the hospital and help others at the same time. MSK was there to save me, so I will be there for MSK. After all, without people like us, this kind of groundbreaking research and care could not happen. There wouldn't be lifesaving procedures for future generations—or for us!

Today, when we're not traveling the world together, Ed and I are learning how to make wine and attending the theater or the ballet. Ed's gardening skills have turned our yard into a miniature farm. I take courses on photography and bread-making.

It's been many years since I was a terrified teenager facing a rare diagnosis, when I was told my leg could not be saved. Even after all this time, I still remember Dr. Francis and the great treatment I received at MSK—and so does Ed. And now, Ed and I can be remembered, too, through our bequest to MSK. It's a tangible expression of our love that will help people for many years to come.

To learn how you can make a meaningful gift to impact MSK patients for years to come, contact the Office of Planned Giving at or 800-688-1827.

A charitable bequest is one or two sentences in your will or living trust that leave to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center a specific item, an amount of money, a gift contingent upon certain events or a percentage of your estate.

An individual or organization designated to receive benefits or funds under a will or other contract, such as an insurance policy, trust, or retirement plan.

I bequeath to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, a New York nonprofit corporation having a principal place of business at 1275 York Avenue, New York, NY 10065, Federal Tax ID #13-1924236, ____percent of my total estate (or $_____, or other property) to be used or disposed of as Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in its sole discretion deems appropriate.

able to be changed or cancelled

A revocable living trust is set up during your lifetime and can be revoked at any time before death. They allow assets held in the trust to pass directly to beneficiaries without probate court proceedings and can also reduce federal estate taxes.

cannot be changed or cancelled

tax on gifts generally paid by the person making the gift rather than the recipient

the original value of an asset, such as stock, before its appreciation or depreciation

the growth in value of an asset like stock or real estate since the original purchase

the price a willing buyer and willing seller can agree on

The person receiving the gift annuity payments.

the part of an estate left after debts, taxes and specific bequests have been paid

a written and properly witnessed legal change to a will

the person named in a will to manage the estate, collect the property, pay any debt, and distribute property according to the will

A donor-advised fund is an account that you set up but which is managed by a nonprofit organization. You contribute to the account, which grows tax-free. You can recommend how much (and how often) you want to distribute money from that fund to MSK or other charities. You cannot direct the gifts.

An endowed gift can create a new endowment or add to an existing endowment. The principal of the endowment is invested and a portion of the principal’s earnings are used each year to support our mission.

Tax on the growth in value of an asset—such as real estate or stock—since its original purchase.

Securities, real estate, or any other property having a fair market value greater than its original purchase price.

Real estate can be a personal residence, vacation home, timeshare property, farm, commercial property, or undeveloped land.

A charitable remainder trust provides you or other named individuals income each year for life or a period not exceeding 20 years from assets you give to the trust you create.

You give assets to a trust that pays our organization set payments for a number of years, which you choose. The longer the length of time, the better the potential tax savings to you. When the term is up, the remaining trust assets go to you, your family or other beneficiaries you select. This is an excellent way to transfer property to family members at a minimal cost.

You fund this type of trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. You can also make additional gifts; each one also qualifies for a tax deduction. The trust pays you, each year, a variable amount based on a fixed percentage of the fair market value of the trust assets. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to MSK as a lump sum.

You fund this trust with cash or appreciated assets—and may qualify for a federal income tax charitable deduction when you itemize. Each year the trust pays you or another named individual the same dollar amount you choose at the start. When the trust terminates, the remaining principal goes to MSK as a lump sum.

A beneficiary designation clearly identifies how specific assets will be distributed after your death.

A charitable gift annuity involves a simple contract between you and MSK where you agree to make a gift to MSK and we, in return, agree to pay you (and someone else, if you choose) a fixed amount each year for the rest of your life.

A tax imposed at one's death on the transfer of most types of property. Currently federal estate taxes are assessed in 2022 on estates worth more than $11.2 million. The maximum estate tax rate is 40 percent. Some states also impose taxes at death that vary depending on state law.

A written legal instrument created by a grantor for the benefit of him/herself (during life) or others (during life or at death).

A revocable trust established by a grantor during his or her lifetime in which the grantor transfers some or all of his or her property into the trust.

Equity or debt instruments, typically shares listed on a stock exchange, which can be readily bought or sold.