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Doctor’s devise, tell me what you see

By: David Donovan//November 2, 2021

Doctor’s devise, tell me what you see

By: David Donovan//November 2, 2021

In the internet age, if we can’t quite recall the precise name of something—a school, for instance—we can usually fill in our blanks with a quick and easy search. If only Google had existed in the 1970s, it might have been a lot of clearer which of two South Carolina medical schools was the intended beneficiary of one doctor’s bequest.

Dr. Geraldine McDaniel Hardy was born in Greenville in 1925. After graduating from what is now Winthrop University, she went to medical school in Michigan and rarely, if ever, returned to her native state. Nevertheless, in 1977 she executed a trust document leaving her estate—which turned out to be significant—to “Medical School, University of South Carolina, Charleston” to establish a chair to deal with the study of the psychiatry of women.

Problematically, there is not now and has never been a “Medical School, University of South Carolina” in Charleston. Instead, there is a Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, and a University of South Carolina, which has a School of Medicine and is of course in Columbia. Both schools claimed to be Hardy’s intended beneficiary, requiring a Michigan judge to try to divine Hardy’s true intent. The judge ruled in favor of MUSC, and USC appealed.

On Oct. 28 Michigan’s Court of Appeals affirmed that ruling. While the court admitted—and in multiple places in the opinion, amply demonstrated—that it “lacked familiarity with South Carolina,” it agreed with the trial court that it was more likely that Hardy slightly misremembered the name of the school she wished to endow than misstated the city where it was located.

Further illustrating how things have changed, USC’s arguments leaned on the fact that its medical school enrolled its first class the year Hardy executed her trust, and the new school was written about often in local newspapers. But as the court noted, Hardy likely would have encountered little, if any, local news from South Carolina in 1977, and it’s unclear if she even knew that USC’s medical school existed when she made her gift.

Indeed, it’s quite unlikely that Sidebar (or you, perhaps) would have even learned about the whole dispute if not for the internet—he first learned about it through a friend’s helpful email.


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