TAMPA — Fiercely independent and famously frugal, Katherine Kinnicutt lived modestly in Safety Harbor and had worked at Raymond James for more than 25 years when she died last summer.
On Thursday, her bequest of more than $2 million to United Way Suncoast became the largest personal gift ever made to the charity's endowment fund.
Tom James, executive chairman of Raymond James Financial and a significant philanthropist himself, made the presentation in a brief ceremony at the United Way offices in Tampa.
Ms. Kinnicutt was 63 when cancer claimed her life on Aug. 31, 2012. She was born into a well-to-do New England family, said Bob Blain, who hired her at Raymond James in 1987. She talked of youthful summers, sometimes celebrating in a barn that was turned into a dance hall. Growing up, "She did all kinds of cool stuff. We would love hearing her stories."
Her brother Lincoln had moved to Florida to work for Raymond James, and Ms. Kinnicutt, a Vassar graduate who earned a paralegal degree in Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) law, also transferred south.
"She could roll a regulation off her tongue," Blain said. "We called her the ERISA guru. I think she's a certified genius in that area. She was so smart."
Her depth of knowledge was so highly valued that she once served on an Internal Revenue Service committee to oversee the very rules she was to interpret and apply.
"She was legendary because of this level of expertise," James said.
He was astounded at learning of her gift to the United Way.
"It gives me great pride, because she was one of my favorite people," he said. "She helped literally thousands of our financial advisers and hundreds of thousands of clients."
Her co-workers said Ms. Kinnicutt enjoyed travel, photography, and art, often volunteering for the Raymond James Gasparilla Festival of the Arts and attending the annual Raymond James Wildlife & Western Visions Art Show.
"People thought she was eccentric," said her friend and former colleague Lisa DuFaux. "I mean, this is a person who enjoys reading IRS code. So many people didn't realize there was this whole other side to her."
About 10 years ago, having never before had pets, she adopted two kittens.
"I turned her into a crazy cat lady," DuFaux said. "She had everything cat: prints on the wall, calendars, earrings, statues."
Ms. Kinnicutt also made provisions in her estate plan for Lady and Sammy, the mixed-breed rescue felines that survive her and now live with DuFaux.
"She was so humble," Blain said. "She didn't get it unless she could pay for it. She saved and saved and saved because she never wanted to be a burden," contributing the maximum amounts allowed every year into her 401(k) and Roth IRA accounts. "She never got to spend one penny on herself."
She did buy gifts for family and friends, often taking months to search for a perfect present.
As a younger woman, Linc Kinnicutt said his sister worked briefly for a suicide prevention arm of a nonprofit that preceded the United Way. At Raymond James, she was a personal contributor and frequently a department representative for the United Way campaign.
"We kept trying to get her to spend more money on herself, but she never would," he said.
A portion of Ms. Kinnicutt's estate was from an inheritance, and she left limited amounts of money to family, friends and a few other charities, he said, "but the bulk was from Raymond James. Truly, Kathy's gift to United Way is also a gift from Tom James and the organization he created and led, as well as recognition of the example he set."