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$11-million gift to college marks a rare friendship

Published Sep. 16, 2005

As Harvey Wexler lay dying from cancer last year, some of his friends were concerned that he might not have enough money to pay his medical bills.

But last month, after Wexler's estate was settled, Bryn Mawr College received more than $11-million, its largest gift ever, from the unassuming man who lived in a modest one-bedroom apartment in northwest Washington, D.C.

Wexler's fascination with Bryn Mawr, a women's college outside of Philadelphia, sprang from his close, 30-year friendship with Joan Coward, a government economist who graduated in 1945.

Donna L. Wiley, director of resources and secretary of the college, called it one of the most romantic gifts she had ever seen. "Clearly he adored her," she said.

Neither Wexler, who was 67 when he died, nor Coward ever married.

After Coward died of cancer in 1990 at 67, Wexler wanted to create some kind of memorial, perhaps a scholarship fund. The more he talked with Bryn Mawr officials, the more enamored he became with the college, college officials said, and the bigger the gift grew.

Wexler made steady investments in blue chip stocks and lived modestly. But otherwise, his friends say that they have few clues to how he accumulated the money he left to Bryn Mawr.