A Monumental Matriarch

Leading by example, a valued mentor helps to make the future a bit brighter

At  her Ortega home, Helen Murchison Lane took a break from making phone calls on behalf of the St. Johns River to talk about changes she sees in how people help others these days. Soon she would be leaving for a St. Johns RIVERKEEPER meeting. At 91, Mrs. Lane belies recent studies showing that young philanthropists care more about the values and impact of their philanthropy than their predecessors. Mrs. Lane has always been all in.

“It seems like a normal thing to want to do, to say thank you for the life you live. Helping others is right in line with that,” Mrs. Lane said. “It never occurred to me to live any other way than helping when someone needed help. We’re all supposed to take care of each other.”

As Mrs. Lane observed the philanthropic gestures of her father, who graduated from Harvard the day she was born, and other family members, so her four children and 13 grandchildren witness hers. Known throughout Northeast Florida as a philanthropist extraordinaire for her contributions to art, restoration, education and a multitude of other charitable causes, Mrs. Lane is as humble as she is generous. “I’m just an elderly housewife who loves Jacksonville and if I have helped I am grateful because that’s the way it should be,” she said.

“Her entire life, after her children, her full-time job was Jacksonville,” Heather Lane Courtney said of her grandmother. “After college she went to work volunteering. I wanted to do the same.”

No question, said Heather, examples set by her parents and grandparents on both the Lane and Ringhaver sides of her family nurtured her passion for giving back to her community.

At 31, Heather is the youngest co-chair of the Cowford Ball to benefit the American Cancer Society. Serving with her 33-year-old husband, Will, she is well on her way to following in her grandmother’s footsteps—“big shoes to fill,” she said. Hesitant at first to accept the daunting responsibility, the couple accepted after Heather’s step-grandmother and Will’s grandfather died of cancer. “It’s such an incredible honor. We didn’t feel worthy of it,” Heather said. “But everybody is touched by cancer.”

Like her grandmother, Heather became involved in the Junior League of Jacksonville and Cummer Museum, and volunteered at various charitable events. Yet both recognize that the challenges and opportunities of the younger philanthropists are different from those of older generations.

Heather, who is employed by Ring Power Corporation as power systems marketing and business development manager, said Jacksonville is fortunate to have many wealthy individuals who support a wide variety of causes, even though the younger ones may have more time than money to give right now.

Heather’s 22-year-old sister, Lambert Lane, is on the cusp of joining the next generation of givers. Although still a student in college, she is passionate about dance and children and hopes to put the two together in the future.

“Children need caring and I think I can bring that to children through dance,” said Lambert. “I want to help impoverished kids learn to express themselves through dance.”

Like her older sister, Lambert said her grandmother is her inspiration. “She is the best woman I know. She’s constantly giving back, and she is so humble.”

“I am proud of their generation,” said Mrs. Lane.