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Thrifty preacher leaves big estate

1/22/2001 News media contact: Tim Tanton · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn.

NOTE: This story is used with the permission of the Knoxville News-Sentinel newspaper. Editors who pick this story up for their publications must include that credit line.

By Nellann Young Knoxville News-Sentinel

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) -- The Rev. Vertrue Sharp lived like a pauper but had the bank account of a king.

His family proved it Jan. 10 when they began doling out most of his $2 million estate, beginning with more than $500,000 in gifts to two Knoxville hospitals.

Sharp, former minister at Middlesettlements United Methodist Church in Maryville, left most of his estate -- obtained from the million-dollar sale of his 73-acre farm and wise investments over the years -- to seven charities.

"He just saved every penny, every penny he made," said his sister, Louie Mae Pyatt-Walker.

East Tennessee Children's Hospital received a check for about $330,000 while the University of Tennessee Medical Center was given nearly $200,000.

Both hospitals will use the money for specific endowments that fit requests from Sharp.

But perhaps the most startling twist to the tale is that neither hospital knew of Sharp until they received his gifts. Hospital officials say they seldom receive such sizable donations from someone they've never heard of.

Sharp's family said he wanted to give to the underprivileged, citing in his will a biblical verse in Matthew 25, where Jesus says that whatever one does to the least of his brethren he does to him.
Sharp, who died Aug. 14, 1999, at the age of 94, lived in a two-bedroom home in Blount County and raised cattle and grew hay when he wasn't preaching.

His family described Sharp as "super intelligent" but said he was often looking for ways to save money.

For example, he refused to buy coffee at a favorite restaurant when the price was raised to 75 cents. Instead, he would buy it for 25 cents at a local fast-food restaurant and then take it to the first restaurant, his family said.

"If you look at him, you would have thought he was the biggest pauper that ever lived," said his niece, Debra Mae Pyatt-Poore.

In addition, Sharp refused to buy paper towels and even made sure his family didn't buy them with his money when they cared for him in his later years, Walker said.

"He wanted to make sure his money wasn't used for paper towels," Walker said.

Sharp's thriftiness will now benefit kids at Children's Hospital whose parents aren't able to pay for their medical care. Prior to Sharp's $330,000 contribution to the Open Door Fund, the fund had $22,000 in it, according to hospital spokeswoman Ellen Liston.

His nearly $200,000 gift to UT Medical Center will start the Rev. Vertrue and Ruby Wilson Sharp Endowment to support pastoral care outreach in cancer education in rural areas. The late Ruby Wilson Sharp was Sharp's wife.

The hospital decided to enhance its clergy outreach cancer education program after Sharp asked his donation be used to support cancer study. Combining cancer education with pastoral care was a perfect fit for an endowment from a man who spent 70 years in the church, according to Jeff Elliott, director of development for the hospital.

Hospital chaplains will use the funding to create programs that help ministers counsel church members who are either facing cancer or have family members with cancer, according to the Rev. George E. Doebler, director of the hospital's pastoral care department.

"When a gift like this is made, it's just unreal," Doebler said.

Elliott said that because churches are the major gathering places in rural areas, that is where the hospital chose to bolster support for cancer patients' families.

Sharp's family has not announced which other charities will receive chunks of his estate, because the checks have not been delivered yet, Walker said. But most of his estate will be divided among the charities. He left only a small portion to his family -- saying others needed it more than they.

"His main idea was to give for the most bang for the buck," Poore said.

And as Walker, Poore, her husband, Johnny Ray and son Hunter made two hospitals very happy, they said they hoped Sharp's generosity would spur more in the community.

"This might remind other people," Walker said, "that they can do the same thing."

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