American’s Gift to Panama’s Poor Held Up by Family


Originally uploaded by Thomas Roche

From the International Herald Tribune, the story of one of those American businessmen who retired to Panama. The conservative Wilson Lucom decided to give his money to the poor of Panama, and his family is fighting it tooth & nail.

In life, Wilson C. Lucom was not exactly child-friendly. The curmudgeon never had children himself, nor was he especially close to the offspring of his third wife, Hilda. When he opened his ample checkbook, friends say, it was more likely to finance a conservative political cause than to help underprivileged youth.

But Lucom, a native of rural Pennsylvania who spent much of his life in Palm Beach, Florida, surprised everyone in his will, which was disclosed upon his death two years ago at the age of 88. After doling out relatively small portions of his tens of millions of dollars to survivors, he left the rest to a foundation he had dreamed up in secrecy to aid the poor children of Panama, where he spent the final years of his life.

It would be one of the largest charitable donations, if not the largest, in Panama’s history, but so far not a single child has had access to the money. The will has set off a vicious legal battle that is playing out in at least four countries. Criminal charges have been filed, insults traded and threats made. The number of law firms involved exceeds 20.

“This is all about greed,” said Hector Avila, an advocate for at-risk children in Panama who organized a demonstration of young people in May outside Supreme Court in Panama, calling for Lucom’s gift to be honored. Within a week of the protest, Avila survived a shooting. No link to the Lucom case was established.

Lucom lived a colorful life, serving in his 20s as an aide to Edward Stettinius Jr., who was secretary of state under President Franklin Delano Roosevelt at the time. He repeatedly told the story of how he had spent time in Ethiopia during the rule of Haile Selassie and had been in San Francisco when the United Nations was born.



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