Woman leaves millions for college scholarships

Sylvia Bloom quietly amassed a fortune.

BY LESLEY SUSSMAN | A Brooklyn legal secretary who amassed a secret $8 million fortune during her life, left more than $6 million to the Henry Street Settlement for low-income youths’ college scholarships.

Sylvia Bloom worked for the same law firm 67 years until retiring at age 96. She died shortly afterward in 2016. It’s the largest single estate gift in the 125 years of the settlement, at 40 Montgomery St.

Bloom’s close friends and relatives did not know she had such a fortune. She was the third employee hired by the Wall St. law firm Cleary Gottleib Steen & Hamilton. Whenever her boss bought a stock (as his secretary, she purchased it for him), she bought the same stock — in a smaller amount.

Bloom named her niece, Jane Lockshin, executor of her estate with specific instructions that her money go to an organization offering low-income youth educational opportunities. Bloom left some money to relatives and friends, but directed the bulk of the fortune to go toward scholarships of Lockshin’s choice for needy students.

As luck had it, Lockshin was working as treasurer of the Lower East Side settlement house. She has served on its board since 1984 and chairs its finance committee.

She thought her aunt’s money was perfectly suited for the settlement’s Expanded Horizons College Success Program, which serves low-income students from ninth grade through college; the program offers free college counseling, SAT prep, tutoring, visits to college campuses and continuous support to participants through completion of their college degrees.

“The decision to award us the estate money was easy,” Lockshin said. “Henry Street is a well-respected, responsible organization, does outstanding work and is firmly grounded in New York City. And it has soul.”

Lockshin had no idea until Bloom’s very last days that she had secretly accumulated such wealth.

“I was flabbergasted when I learned how much her estate was worth,” she said. “My aunt was a very private person and never mentioned the extent of her estate. She probably thought that was no one’s business but her own.

“I knew Sylvia had enough to live on, and that she and my uncle lived on their salaries,” she added. “Sylvia was not extravagant but she and my Uncle Ray traveled throughout the U.S. and in Europe. She owned a fur coat — it was Persian lamb not ermine. She dressed well, as befits a senior secretary at a major law firm. They owned a car — probably a Ford — definitely not a Rolls! She was not a conspicuous spender.”

David Garza, Henry Street Settlement’s executive director, said he was “profoundly grateful to Sylvia Bloom and Jane Lockshin. These resources will strengthen our Expanded Horizons Program in an unprecedented way.

“Due to the gift’s magnitude, we are creating an endowment,” he said. “The funds generated will provide support annually — and in perpetuity. Ultimately, thousands of low-income young adults will receive the vital support they need to succeed in college — and in their lives — because of this generously transformative gift.

“Not only will the endowment provide scholarships to college students,” Garza continued, “but it will allow for additional resources, like social-work support to the mostly first-generation college students in the program.”

The daughter of Eastern European immigrants, Bloom was born in New York and lived in Brooklyn most of her life. An original, she kept her maiden name when she married, and took the subway to work until her retirement — even during snowstorms. She regretted not going to law school.

At her memorial in 2016, one colleague said she would have made an excellent lawyer, calling her “intelligent, analytical, patient, wise and loyal.” Many spoke of her lively sense of humor, dry wit, wonderful laugh and gleaming smile.

Others praised her character, calling her professional, loyal, modest, honest, generous and dedicated, with a no-nonsense work ethic.

“Frank, with no pretense, and a completely independent thinker,” one colleague recalled. “Her mind was sharp, her words precise.”

Another said, “She was a really decent person full of smarts and I will miss her a lot.”

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