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Teresa Lawson: Why I Give

June 8, 2023

Although Teresa Lawson is a fourth-generation Seattleite and a UW graduate, she only began attending performances at Meany Center regularly about six years ago. So why did she decide to designate Meany as a beneficiary of part of her estate?

The inspiration was her early exposure to live performance through the Seattle public schools in the 1950s and ’60s. Teresa recalled bus trips with her classmates to hear the Seattle Symphony rehearse. “I vividly remember looking up at the players on the stage as the conductor, Milton Katims, explained to this bunch of elementary school students what we were about to hear.” In another powerful memory, a string quartet of players from the Symphony visited her school; seeing their faces as they played, she says, she was struck by how much fun they were having.

The years went by; Teresa became a lawyer, then moved to Boston where she began working as an editor. At Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, she worked on an academic journal and co-founded a book series focused on international relations and public policy. A decade later, tired of a long commute, she began working from home as a freelance editor; most of her clients were at universities and think-tanks, and many had or would later have roles at the upper echelons of the U.S. government. “It was fun, and a privilege, to work with really smart people who spent their careers trying to understand how the world works and trying to make it safer,” she remarks.

She came home to Washington state in 2004, and in recent years began to “glide into retirement.” As her focus on work wound down, her lifelong interest in music had room to grow. In 2017, she made a sudden decision to learn to play the piano. Soon after, she began attending piano performances at Meany. There, Teresa crossed paths with a former colleague who was then president of the Meany Center Advisory Board. He and his wife invited her to join their table at the 2018 Meany Gala, where she bid on a garden party at which Seattle Symphony cellist Efe Baltacıgil played Bach.

At that party, Teresa happened to sit next to Meany philanthropy director Cristi Benefield, who was bubbling over about a recent trip to Spain with a group of Meany supporters. Teresa knew some of places the group had visited from walking the Camino de Santiago a few years earlier. The combination of music, art, food, wine and Spain itself sounded like so much fun that she asked to be included when they repeated the trip. Then the pandemic intervened, and the tour was rescheduled several times. Moreover, said Teresa, “I hesitated writing that big check so I could take part! But it turned out to be so worthwhile, not least because it gave me the opportunity to get to know Michelle and Cristi and other members of the Meany community. Now, at concerts, I feel like part of a family of people who love music as much as I do. Meany has the best audiences!”

Teresa knew she wouldn’t be in a position to write big checks every year. “I am comfortable, but I’m not wealthy — I worked at a university! — and I do need to be thoughtful about money in retirement.” However, she realized that she is nonetheless able to be generous to Meany after she’s gone. She has named Meany and another organization as joint beneficiaries of her retirement account. “I did tell Cristi and Michelle that I plan to live forever, so Meany will probably never see a penny,” Teresa says with almost a straight face. “But I am glad to share what I can.”

She hasn’t restricted how the gift will be used, but she makes it clear that she values Meany’s efforts to provide young people with the exposure to the arts that meant so much to her. “I love it that now I can go to all the concerts I want and learn to play music myself! These are fruits of those seeds that were planted during my childhood, and I believe that all kids deserve this.” She is enthusiastic about Meany’s commitment to arts education for younger people, such as $10 tickets for UW students, free matinees, and in-school performances for school kids. “My gift is a vote of confidence in Meany’s performing arts programs, in its knowledgeable and appreciative audiences, and especially in the children who will be the artists, performers, and audiences of the future.”