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Born on 2nd May 1914, Margaret Lawrence was a woman with diverse skills and talents. She was the reigning queen of the TV show Quizmaster, she amassed one of Australia’s most extensive collections of Australian studio ceramics, and she was an avid Carlton Football Club fan. Give it up for Margaret! is a chance to celebrate her life and acknowledge her great philanthropic efforts. 

The Margaret Lawrence Bequest, one of Australia’s first Prescribed Private Funds, was set up a few years before Margaret Lawrence’s death in 2004. It continues to support many projects for the advancement of women, education and the arts, with beneficiaries including the VCA Margaret Lawrence Gallery, Somebody’s Daughter Theatre Company, and Shepparton Art Museum. You can read more about the many beneficiaries here.

Rather than place the focus directly on her bequest, Give it up for Margaret! aims to inspire broader discussion around innovative philanthropy, particularly as it pertains to the art sector. Give it up for Margaret! incorporates a diverse program of events related to philanthropy, including public forums, presentations by international specialists, and small get-togethers to discuss the shifts in contemporary arts philanthropy. Full details of the events related to philanthropy are listed here

The arts need support, and Give it up for Margaret! aims to encourage arts philanthropy. Margaret Lawrence displayed great leadership in her philanthropic efforts, and we hope more people will be inspired to give. Whether those gifts are of one billion or one dollar, we want people to “give it up for Margaret!”  

The Margaret Lawrence Bequest: Living Philanthropy 

Margaret Lawrence was my client at Perpetual Trustees. I met her in 1999 and knew her for six years, from the age of eighty-four until she died at ninety. She had been a client of Perpetual for around fifty years, since her father’s death in the 1950s. Margaret had been managing her own share portfolio for nearly forty years and she was proud (but modestly so) of her astute investment achievements. The “living philanthropy” approach was the best for Margaret Lawrence. She said to me that she had never had so much fun.

When I first met her, her will stipulated that the residuary of her estate was to be left to particular charities. At that time, she said she had not really given particular thought to who the beneficiaries would be. She had supported some charities through a longstanding program of annual donations. She wasn’t interested in tax minimisation strategies or anything like that. She was interested in finding a way to provide greater benefits and more impact during her lifetime, and also very much wanted to put in place a meaningful legacy to the Victorian community that also reflected her major life interests.

Over time, she became interested in charitable foundations. I exposed her to the Helen Lempriere Foundation, which I managed, and described to her how we set that up at Werribee Mansion. She was interested in how that worked. However, the project that really triggered her was the Felton Bequest. I took her along to the NGV to a Felton Bequest night and, because she was an art lover and because she had such a strong mind, she could readily calculate what had been achieved since 1904 when Felton left his money to the NGV. Margaret could see the great impact of Felton’s money on the city and on so many people in this state and that’s really why she said, “I am going to have a bequest.” 

She became interested in what I was calling at the time “living bequests”. In 2000, the Federal government brought in Prescribed Private Funds. We talked about the fact that she had an amount of money that she said she would never need. She decided to put that amount into a fund so that while she was alive she might get some enjoyment out of helping to decide where it would go as well as seeing the benefits of it. She was very attracted to that notion. She was one of the first ten to set up a Prescribed Private Fund in Australia. I encouraged her to put her name to it because of the importance of demonstrating leadership in this space. She amended her will and left the residuary of her estate to The Margaret Lawrence Bequest (prescribed private fund). 

Then, we focused on considering her interests and deciding the beneficiaries. Her interests were in the arts, in education and in social issues. Occasionally she would give small amounts to non-arts organisations while she was alive, but she wanted her bequest to be arts-based. So we explored a number of options. We went to Shepparton Art Museum because of her love of ceramics, and we went to the VCA and to a number of other places. 

She was interested in how contemporary organisations worked. I would suggest things and she would think about it very carefully and come back and say, “I think that’s good, that works – let’s do that.” Over the next few years, she relished becoming involved in the process of using her money for the benefits of others. From then, her life just blossomed. I think she really had new meaning in her life. 

Jan Cochrane-Harry
Co-Trustee of the Margaret Lawrence Bequest (with Perpetual)