IN PROMISING TO DONATE most of their considerable fortune to charity, Bill and Joyce Cummings say they are trying to set an example for the country’s wealthiest 1 percent. The Winchester couple, having made hundreds of millions in commercial real estate in Eastern Massachusetts, signed on in May to the Giving Pledge campaign, started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates. By taking the pledge, America’s richest families publicly declare that they will give away more than half of their money during their lifetimes or after death; the Cummingses say they privately decided some time ago to give 90 percent to philanthropic causes. The couple are the first in the state to make the pledge, joining 68 other signatories nationwide.
Bill Cummings says that he and his wife were both brought up to always be “doing more than we have to do.” They’ve recently also joined Buffett in calling on the super-rich to pay more taxes.
“We were both raised in down-to-earth families that didn’t have a lot. Bill’s father was a house painter. . . . My dad was raised on a farm in Illinois,” says Joyce, 71. “We just never had any great desire for, as Bill said, the jet set.”
The couple have long made a habit of giving money away. They started the Cummings Foundation in 1986 – its endowment is now worth just over $900 million – which funds nonprofit assisted- and independent-living communities in Woburn and Marlborough as well as scholarships. The foundation has also committed more than $50 million to Tufts University, Bill’s alma mater.
Bill, 74, says he and his wife always figured “having too much was not a good thing” and have tried to instill the same belief in their four kids. Plus, he says, the family likes seeing the money put to good use. “It was easy to give,” he says.