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Billionaire makes $365-million overall pledge to four schools

Published Oct. 9, 2005

Billionaire Walter Annenberg has decided to give $365-million in cash to four schools, including $100-million to his high school alma mater, a New Jersey preparatory school that called the gift a "Cinderella story."

In addition to the gift for the Peddie School, whose operating budget is $8-million, the retired publisher is giving $120-million each to the universities of Pennsylvania and Southern California, where there are schools of communication in his name. Harvard University, where his only son attended, will receive $25-million.

Annenberg, a former U.S. ambassador to Britain, already is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for making the largest philanthropic donation. Two years ago, the son of an East Prussian immigrant signed over his $1-billion art collection to the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art upon his death.

Now, with this colossal sum of cash to schools, Annenberg, 85, said he hopes to "inspire others to do the same."

Since 1979, three bequests between $100-million and $125-million have been made to individual universities, but none was a lump sum, cash donation.

The gift by the Annenberg Foundation, of which Walter Annenberg is president and chairman, rivals only a 1955 Guinness Book entry. That year, the Ford Foundation donated $500-million to colleges and hospitals. But that gift was spread among 4,000 institutions.

Annenberg has long been a patron of schools and the arts, giving away hundreds of millions of dollars to a number of schools that were connected to his family. He also gave $5O-million to the United Negro College Fund.

It was 1924 when Annenberg enrolled at the Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J., at age 15. At the time, more established college preparatory schools discriminated against Jews. Annenberg's choice was a Baptist-affiliated school for boys on a campus with two buildings.

Three weeks ago, the former publisher of TV Guide, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Seventeen magazine, asked his chauffeur to drive him to Peddie for an unannounced visit, said Anne Seltzer, Peddie's director of development. He was seen talking and laughing with students who explained the latest fads.