Atlanta, GA,
16:40 PM

Giving That Goes Beyond a Lifetime

Four families talk about their decision to ensure their legacies – and Shepherd Center’s future – through giving to Shepherd Center.

When he was growing up, Howard Berger’s family was quite poor, especially during the Great Depression, but they always managed to place some spare pennies and nickels in a jar to allocate to worthy causes. That lesson of giving, no matter the amount, has stayed with Howard for a lifetime.

A World War II veteran, Howard had a 53-year career in the military (50 years overseas), both as a non-commissioned officer and a Department of the Army civilian. He and his late wife, Dorothy, have been generous donors to many charities and recently to Shepherd Center. The hospital’s work with veterans, mainly through its SHARE Military Initiative, is what led him to contribute.

“Supporting the military and organizations that provide help to the military is very important to me,” he says. “And I am particularly impressed with the work accomplished by Shepherd Center.”

Through its legacy giving program, Shepherd Center will benefit from Howard’s generosity even after he’s gone. The hospital is one of many organizations where Howard has set up a charitable gift annuity. This special type of annuity is given to the nonprofit organization by a donor. The organization can invest that money while providing high periodic returns to the donor through their lifetime. After the donor passes, the nonprofit retains the remainder of the annuity gift for its future endeavors.

Howard’s giving is through a unique “Over 90 Charitable Gift Annuity Plan,” something he created after discovering that most charitable gift annuity plans were not satisfactorily available to people over the age of 90.

“When I looked into why that was the general policy, I couldn’t find a rational response,” states Howard, who is 97. Thanks to his efforts, most states now permit it.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Howard says. “The charity obtains money they wouldn’t otherwise receive, and the donor still receives income every quarter or semi-annually. It’s a great way to give to your favorite charities while still receiving income.”

In fact, he coined a new adage: “It’s better to give AND receive.”

Much like Howard is, the late Tommy Malone was passionate about making a meaningful difference in people’s lives, whether through the work he did or through philanthropic giving.

“His philosophy was that life and God had been good to him, more than he ever expected,” says his wife, Debbie Malone. “He always felt that there was a guiding hand shaping his destiny as one of America’s greatest trial lawyers. He wanted to share and give back.”

Tommy died in October 2019 and included Shepherd Center in his will.

A personal injury attorney, Tommy made his mark on the world fighting for people injured out of negligence, including accidents and medical malpractice. He took on only catastrophic injury cases.

The Malones have been Shepherd Center donors since 2006, and Tommy served on the hospital’s Board of Trustees from 2011 to 2014. He and Debbie were honored as Shepherd Center “Angels of the Year” in 2017.

“My father saw the miracles performed by Shepherd and strongly believed that he and Shepherd shared the same mission – to make a meaningful difference in the quality of another person’s life,” says Adam Malone, who followed in his father’s footsteps and now serves on Shepherd Center’s Board of Trustees.

Malone Law sponsors Shepherd’s Injury Prevention Program, which aspires to become the provider of leading brain and spinal cord injury prevention education to Georgia’s schools, universities and workplaces.

Like Tommy, Debbie has also included Shepherd Center in her will, and she shares Tommy’s philosophy of giving and love of Shepherd Center.

“Legacy giving allows us to support Shepherd Center like we always have,” she says. “This allows them to continue to grow and provide quality care, help families and conduct research – all the things they do so well.”

While a bicycle accident led Mike and Tammy Thomas to Shepherd Center in 2003, much like the Malones, their impact on Shepherd Center will last for many years to come.

After a long career running distribution centers for several companies, Mike Thomas retired and now spends most of his days taking walks, volunteering his time and simply enjoying life.

After sustaining an acquired brain injury (ABI) in a bicycle accident in 2003, Mike spent four months at Shepherd Center, first as an inpatient in the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Program, and then at Pathways, Shepherd Center’s comprehensive outpatient rehabilitation program for people recovering from brain injury. He and his family credit Shepherd Center for where he is now.

“There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Mike would not be the amazing person that he is today if it wasn’t for the care he received at Shepherd Center,” says his wife, Tammy.

He soon became a regular donor, and in 2014, after he retired, he began volunteering at both the hospital and Pathways.

“I wanted to pay Shepherd Center back for all they did for me,” he says. “I appreciate every day I have.”

He and Tammy have taken that a step further by including Shepherd Center in their estate plans, and it gives Mike great joy to know that he can help the hospital beyond his lifetime.

“I am supporting something that is the best thing that ever happened to me,” he says. “It gives me pleasure to know I am using my estate in a meaningful way.”

For some, legacy giving becomes a family affair. During the past 40 years, Shepherd Center has been a big part of the Pearce family. Libby and Gene Pearce learned of Shepherd in its early days when a good friend was one of the first patients. Their daughters – Elizabeth, Virginia and Anne – grew up knowing Shepherd Center was a special place. All have been regular donors and volunteers, and some are including Shepherd Center in their estate plans.

“Our involvement in Shepherd Center has been very gratifying,” says Gene, who served on Shepherd Center’s Foundation Board. “We saw firsthand the work they were doing from the very beginning, and we’ve had a front-row seat to its incredible growth over the years.”

Libby has been an active volunteer for years, and she passed that on to her daughters. Virginia Pearce Seawell served as the auction co-chair for Summer in the City for two years and is also a regular contributor. Elizabeth Pearce joined the Junior Committee right out of college, and Shepherd Center soon became an important cause to support.

“Shepherd Center gives people back their lives,” Elizabeth says. “The stories of how the patients there have been transformed are remarkable.”

Because of her involvement – she also serves on the Foundation Board – Elizabeth said including Shepherd Center in her will was a logical step.

“Legacy giving helps Shepherd Center affect hope and change for years to come,” she says.

Anne Pearce Worrell worked for the Shepherd Center Foundation for 10 years, was involved in the Junior Committee and several fundraisers, and is immediate past-president of the Shepherd Center Auxiliary. She stayed involved even after she left her job, and she also decided to include Shepherd Center in her will.

“Knowing that Shepherd patients are going to continue to receive excellent care after I’m gone is a wonderful comfort,” Anne says. “To continue to impact an organization after you’re gone is the ultimate philanthropic gesture.”

Gene and Libby are also doing their part to make sure Shepherd Center succeeds in the future.

“Shepherd Center has been something that our family has shared, and that’s meant a lot,” Gene says. “It will continue to mean something because the gifts we give will live on and help patients and families in the future.”


Written by Sara Baxter

About Shepherd Center

Shepherd Center provides world-class clinical care, research, and family support for people experiencing the most complex conditions, including spinal cord and brain injuries, multi-trauma, traumatic amputations, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and pain. An elite center recognized as both Spinal Cord Injury and Traumatic Brain Injury Model Systems, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News as one of the nation’s top hospitals for rehabilitation. Shepherd Center treats thousands of patients annually with unmatched expertise and unwavering compassion to help them begin again.