Gratitude and Sadness

Posted in: News

A Gift from the Estate of Michelle Baseman

On Saturday, July 15, of last year, Michelle Basemen (63) passed away peacefully after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. She was survived by 8 brothers and sisters, 6 nieces and nephews, and 5 great nieces and nephews. She was a talented carpenter who restored a grand townhouse for 39 years where I visited her the last time I saw her.

Michelle was attracted to the Baltimore Ethical Society partially because of our intellectually stimulating talks. In her soft-spoken manner she shared her love of science and philosophy, mixing in quips with her wry sense of humor. But Michelle also liked coming to BES because of our warm, welcoming community. Having been known as a man named Michael for most of her life, she did not always feel welcomed at other spaces in Baltimore. I am glad she found us an oasis of welcome and thoughtfulness.

As I shared at her memorial service, Michelle shared with me a 400-page collection of quotes along with her own musings in a document she titled, Musings for Essential Existence: an Anthology of Aphorisms, Epigrams, Reflections, and Other Writings for Ethical Living and Living a Sane Life in an Insane World.

It was a gift I have returned to now and again for a quote or a laugh, and am happy to share it with you. One particular warm quote from Bertrand Russell in his essay about death keeps coming back to me: “…wherever a spark of the divine fire kindled in their hearts, we were ready with encouragement, with sympathy, with brave words in which high courage glowed.” This collection, and Michelle’s presence when she was with us, seemed gifts enough.

What I did not anticipate was another gift from Michelle that came months after her death. Her sister informed me last spring that Michelle had left a gift to BES in her will. Just this fall, once the estate was settled, we received a check for $13,965. Without a belief in the afterlife, I have only my imagination available to conjure up Michelle for a final thank you to her for this generous gift. She’d probably crack some morbid joke about it and tell me to get back to work. It reminds me that she remains a part of my life, and her gift will help us at BES continue our work to offer Baltimore a home for Ethical Humanism.


As we approach the end of the year, and as we may be inspired by Michelle’s example, this is an apt time to consider BES in our own estate planning, and to be mindful that if we plan to make deductions on our 2018 taxes for charitable giving to BES, our pledge payments must be made before the end of the calendar year.

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