Preserving history and strengthening the future

Portraits of Generosity: Ed and Meg Downey

By Darryl Gangloff / October 04, 2021

As a Millerton attorney for 45 years, Ed Downey has helped clients realize their philanthropic goals by partnering with Berkshire Taconic. None has inspired him more than his remarkable high school history teacher.

Violet H. Simmons taught in the Webutuck district for 48 years. When she retired, friends and former students established a scholarship fund in her name. In her will, she created an endowment at BTCF that transformed the fund, enabling it to grant substantial four-year awards. After Violet’s death, one of her former students, Barbara Thorlichen Riefle, left a large bequest to the fund. Inspired by that gift, other alumni responded with donations, leading to the creation of a second scholarship that allows Webutuck graduates to travel and study during a summer in college. This cascading generosity has deeply affected Ed during his tenure as a director of the fund.

“Miss Simmons’ values inspired a program that provides Webutuck graduates opportunities for personal and intellectual growth,” Ed said. “It’s a remarkable gift to future generations.”

Ed and his wife, Meg—who, after a distinguished 41-year career in journalism, is now chief marketing officer of the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck—have that same drive to support their community. Despite their busy careers, both find time to serve on multiple boards. They opened a donor advised fund at BTCF 20 years ago to make grants to local organizations and respond to urgent needs. Along with Ed’s brother and sister-in law, the couple recently opened an endowment fund to support the North East Historical Society. It is a tribute to Ed’s mother, Leola Downey, who was a Webutuck history teacher and president of the organization—a role Ed now fills.

Family values also shaped Meg’s ideas about generosity. She has an early memory of going with her parents to a Pennsylvania train station to welcome Hungarian refugees from the 1956 Soviet incursion. This gesture of goodwill from one family to another has stayed with her throughout her life. “It shows the impact that you can have on other people's lives and how one action in the world affects others,” she said.

Inspired by Violet H. Simmons, their parents and the other remarkable people in their lives, the Downeys will continue preserving the history of their community while strengthening its future.