CHURCHES RECEIVE BEQUEST IN HONOR OF REV. FLETCHER
March 9, 1999
Deceased Augusta native Mary Brigham left over $1 million to two Alabama Episcopal churches for the deaf. St. Mark's Church for the Deaf in Mobile and St. John's Church for the Deaf in Birmingham each received $520,000 from the estate of the Columbia County woman. Both congregations were established by the Rev. Robert Fletcher, who along with his wife Estelle had been friends with Brigham since the 1930s.
While Brigham herself was not deaf, Robert Fletcher lost his hearing after being struck by lightning as a seven-year-old. His wife became deaf after a childhood illness. The pastor pioneered deaf ministry in the Southeast.
In her will, Brigham bequeathed a total of $5,000 to the Alabama churches. Whatever was left of her estate was also to be given to the churches - a ministry Brigham had supported throughout her life. Church leaders expressed surprise at how much money Brigham had at the time of her death, since she worried about finances and never acknowledged having such wealth. Born and raised in Augusta, she had worked to raise money for the Episcopal Day School when it first opened. Brigham had few living relatives when she died in August 1998 at age 87.
During a weekend ceremony in Birmingham, the two congregations gathered at St. John's Church with surviving members of the Brigham and Fletcher families -- including Louise Fletcher, one of the Fletchers' children, who won an Oscar for her role as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Brigham and her mother had become friends of the actress when they lived in the same boarding house before Fletcher married. "All I can say is, 'Thank God,'" Fletcher said.
The congregations plan to invest the money in trust funds to assure continuity of their specialized ministries. "Since both congregations are small, this bequest has a tremendous positive impact on their ability to serve deaf people in their communities," said the Rev. Jay Croft of St. John's Church for the Deaf, located at 3794 Crosshaven Drive in Birmingham, Alabama 35223-2833.