Myrtis Allen at an Evans Christmas Party

O. Henry: Myrtis Allen and the Magic Money

It was August, 1984 and to pay for graduate school, my financial advisor told me to sell all of the stock I held in my portfolio, recognize the capital losses on my tax returns, and enter business school debt free. No one knew that the stock market was about to experience one of the broadest and most sustained bull markets in the last 50 years. All debt, after all, was “bad debt” and it felt better to be entering business school without the burden of future education loan payments weighing us down.

Two years later, my wife and I moved from New Haven, Connecticut to Baltimore and started our lives as post grads. I worked with my father and uncle, quickly sizing up that the fortunes for the company were long behind them. We made many calls and scurried around the country seeking possible suitors.

One of the most harrowing days of that year was on October 19, 1987, “Black Monday,” when the stock market took a huge hit, the largest percentage drop in history. I turned ashen when market news broke, as we were in the final negotiations with another company, who was willing to buy one of the company divisions. The potential acquirer got cold feet and terminated the purchase agreement on the day that we were supposed to settle.

Black Monday, 1987

Myrtis Allen

Feeling low and emotionally drained, I got a call that night from Myrtis Allen, who worked for my grandparents, the Evans family. Myrtis said she had seen my name in the newspaper. On a back page listing she noticed my first and last name along with some unclaimed shares of Sprint stock that were about to be surrendered to the state of Maryland. It must be a special knack to be able to scan the fine print of a newspaper page filled with dead stock notices and recognize someone’s name. I checked with the Sunpapers that Myrtis mentioned and indeed, there were 20 shares of Sprint in my name that had been “abandoned.” If they remained unclaimed for 30 days, the shares would be given to the state of Maryland. As I dug deeper, it appeared that the shares were from a 2:1 stock split of the company, that had been issued before I sold my portfolio, but the account they were in was closed after I left for graduate school in Connecticut. Without a forwarding address, the shares were turned over to Maryland as dead stock.

Myrtis Allen at the annual Christmas gathering at the Evans’

I thanked Myrtis for her eagle eyes and her kindness to point out the newspaper listing to me. I asked her if she would accept a reward for finding the stock; she adamantly said, “Heavens, NO!” Then she softened her reproach by saying, “Tracy and you are just getting your lives restarted, so put the stock to good use.” Hers was a gift to us and a lesson for me that would yield solid returns for the rest of my life.

Myrtis Allen worked for the Evans family and we all loved her and the Allen family. She would hug us, ask us key questions, tease us and spoil us, as if we were her own. Annually the Allen family members were welcomed guests at every Christmas party and offered gifts from an uncle or cousin dressed as Santa.

Magic Money

In 1987 Sprint stock, post-split, was worth about $100 per share. I transferred those shares into an account I established with Alex Brown. At the end of the year, the account was worth $2,000 and we gave away half of it to charities of our choice. The next year, the account did well in the market and was worth $2,000. We again gave away half. This “doubling” of our brokerage account, continued for over a decade, as companies such at Microsoft, General Electric and Sprint powered the growth. It grew to be worth over $10,000, even after we gave away over $10,000! We called it “Myrtis’ Magic Money!” We would never have had that charity pot of money without her watchful eyes.

Money Seeds of Growth

Thank you, Myrtis, for your demonstration of generosity. Every year we intentionally “give our assets away” in recognition that it’s not our money. It is a gift from the universe. With some guidance from Myrtis Allen those dollars are doing great work in education, the arts, and in philanthropy. Perhaps money does grow from good works.