During her nearly 70-year career as a legal secretary in New York City, no one knew that Sylvia Bloom was a millionaire — many times over.
Her secret was revealed only after her death, when her estate donated a whopping $6.24 million to the Henry Street Settlement, a nonprofit social services agency on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. It’s the largest gift from an individual donor in the agency’s 125-year history.
“She never talked money and she didn’t live the high life,” said Paul Hyams, a human resources executive at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, the law firm where Bloom had worked as a secretary since 1947. “She wasn’t showy and didn’t want to call attention to herself.”
Hyams, who was one of Bloom’s closest friends at the firm, told the New York Times that he was “completely astounded” to learn of her wealth after her death in 2016 at age 96. Her gift to the agency was made in February but publicly disclosed only last week.
Bloom’s niece Jane Lockshin said she suspects her aunt built her fortune by following the shrewd investment patterns of the lawyers for whom she worked.
“She was a secretary in an era when they ran their boss’s lives, including their personal investments,” Lockshin told the Times. “So when the boss would buy a stock, she would make the purchase for him, and then buy the same stock for herself, but in a smaller amount because she was on a secretary’s salary.”
The strategy paid off. In distributing her aunt’s estate, Lockshin discovered more than $9 million in investment accounts spread across three brokerage houses and 11 banks.
While Bloom’s will allocated some money to friends and relatives, it directed that the bulk of her fortune be donated to charities. In addition to the gift to the Henry Street Settlement, where Lockshin serves as board treasurer, Bloom’s estate donated $2 million to be split between Hunter College, her alma mater, and a scholarship fund to be established.
For most of her life, Bloom lived with her husband in a rent-controlled Brooklyn apartment, commuting into Manhattan to her job at the law firm. Her husband, Raymond Margolies, was a former firefighter who died in 2002. They didn’t have children and apparently lived modestly, despite Bloom’s sizable investment portfolio.
Henry Street Settlement executive director David Garza called the unexpected gift “the epitome of selflessness.”
“She was a child of the Depression and she knew what it was like not to have money,” Hyams said. “She had great empathy for other people who were needy and wanted everybody to have a fair shake.”