In my more than two decades at the Community Foundation, I have had the wonderful privilege of working with many very dedicated and talented community leaders. While many Trustees encouraged me to grow the assets of the Community Foundation, no Trustee ever challenged me more than Brian Smith. He challenged me to think more strategically and more impactfully to increase our charitable assets.
Brian not only challenged me, but he also helped me to be successful. He devoted many hours over many years to help me to secure the largest gift in our history. That gift transformed our grantmaking and enabled us to begin issuing capacity-building grants to enable local charities to be more strategic and impactful. And it was he who was first to commit Washington Financial to a $25,000 sponsorship of the day of giving bonus pool, IF I could secure other gifts to reach the $100,000 goal. Challenge accepted!
Known to many as a successful businessman and bank president focused on the bottom line, Brian also cared deeply about our community and used his position to help local charities. One of the most compelling statements he made on our behalf was "a community is best served when its charitable assets remain in the community. The Washington County Community Foundation is our local vehicle for managing both long-term and short-term charitable assets and in this role has proven itself to be a community asset.”
Brian was particularly drawn to charities that served disadvantaged children. You could see that in the charities he and his wife Sherri supported through WCCF Gives, and you could see that in his board service. He was President of the Try-Again Homes Board for many years, and helped to merge the organization into Blueprints when it was clear that more children could be served by the merger. After the Community Foundation made a grant to initiate an afterschool music program for needy students at the Washington Jazz Society, Brian donated his trombone to the Society to support a young musician.
Securing the initial $100,000 bonus pool for WCCF Gives was a challenge as the day of giving concept was new to Washington County and many were skeptical that it could be successful in our community. I focused my fundraising efforts on institutional supporters who contributed $70,000, but time was running out and I wasn’t certain if we would meet Brian’s challenge.
Thanks to Richard Phelan and Jean McStea Phelan we did meet that challenge. That their one gift would help more than 100 charities, and that they could do so anonymously, appealed to Richard and Jean. Their initial and continued support of WCCF Gives provided the resources for the various contests we held in conjunction with WCCF Gives over the years, including the most recent Get Your Board On Board contest.
Richard and Jean were already generous donors to the Community Foundation. They had utilized us to maintain their anonymity to provide significant pass-through gifts to several local organizations. They had also created the perpetual Chambers-Phelan Fund, to support the Liberty United Methodist Church in Washington, which many of Richard’s Chambers ancestors had attended. With Jean’s Scotch-Irish ancestry, they became leadership members of the Samuel T. Brownlee Society, and when we held our inaugural Brownlee Yuletide, Jean proudly displayed her Scotch-Irish ancestry arriving at the event with her tartan scarf, plaid skirt, and tam beret.
They also provided very generous operational gifts to grow the Foundation and are members of our Golden Oak Guild. Richard passed in 2019, but Jean continued to support the Community Foundation annually. Shortly before she passed in 2022, Jean created the Jean McStea Phelan Fund to support several charities that were especially important to her.
I am so very grateful to have known Brian, Richard and Jean and for the opportunity to work closely with them over the years. Although they are no longer with us, the lasting impact of their strategic leadership and generosity is evident throughout the community, most notably through the continued success of WCCF Gives.
Betsie Trew, President & CEO