Gazette opinion: Humble philanthropist endows Billings health care

2014-08-05T00:00:00Z 2014-08-08T13:07:08Z Gazette opinion: Humble philanthropist endows Billings health care The Billings Gazette
August 05, 2014 12:00 am

Paul L. Metzger gave the Billings community $38 million in the form of equal bequests to Billings Clinic and St. Vincent Hospital.

His obituary in the May 13 Gazette summed up the life of a Yellowstone County farmer, not a millionaire philanthropist. His parents homesteaded along Duck Creek Road west of Billings. There was no electricity in the family home where he grew up. Metzger and his sister, Grace, had the chore of hauling water to the house.

Metzger expanded his parents’ farm, bought an adjoining farm on Metzger Road and grew mostly wheat.

A lifelong Billings resident, Metzger was a “walking historian” known for his ability to recall detailed stories about his hometown, dating back to 1920. He died on May 6 at the age of 97 in his cottage at St.John’s Lutheran Ministries.

The only inkling of his tremendous wealth was contained in two sentences in the obituary: “Paul also learned the value of investing from his father or ‘playing in the stock market,’ and enjoyed great success. With only an eighth-grade education, Paul was an amazingly astute investor and it was both his passion and his hobby.”

Metzger’s ‘hobby’ allowed him to bequeath $19 million to each Billings hospital. The presidents of both hospital foundations said the money will go into endowments to provide lasting support for their health care services.

Metzger didn’t ask for recognition. But Both Jim Duncan of Billings Clinic and Dave Irion of St. Vincent Healthcare said the hospitals will find a way to honor him.

“He was humble, thoughtful, didn’t want anybody to make a fuss over him, but very decisive, too,” said Todd Preston, Metzger’s financial adviser at D.A. Davidson.

“It was Paul’s hope that this will serve as both a blessing to the community and a challenge to others to be benevolent and return a portion of what this wonderful place we call home has been to us,” Preston said.

He left his entire estate to the hospitals.

Metzger’s late sister, Grace, made a $2.4 million donation to the Billings Clinic cardiovascular endowment in 2002. At that time, it was the largest single gift ever to Billings Clinic.

“These dollars will, for generations to come, transform how health care is delivered and how state-of-the-art technology, facilities and people that are in the business of delivering health care can do their jobs,” Duncan said last week at a press conference with Irion and Preston at D.A. Davidson’s Billings office.

Both Duncan and Irion knew the man who became their hospitals’ biggest benefactor.

“Paul wanted this to have an impact over a broad range of the community,” Irion said.

Metzger’s story is the American dream: Starting with little and working hard to get ahead. This humble philanthropist will be remembered for being both equitable and magnanimous in his support of our community.

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