July 2, 2014; The Day

The Community Foundation of Eastern Connecticut has just been made the beneficiary of an $8 million gift which will be used to protect animals and the environment. It is the largest gift the foundation has ever received by far and it came from a local man whose life style certainly did not reflect wealth, that is, except for his $70,000 Corvette he bought shortly before his death.

Sixty year old Peter Grayson Letz was single, a loner, and described  by a family member as frugal but with “no ambition”. “He respected the poor more than the rich,” a friend said. “He might have been a hard guy to befriend, but he was a loyal friend. It’s hard to paint the right picture of someone like him.” Apparently Letz was also the sole heir of a family fortune.

Letz grew up locally and held a series of menial jobs ending up at the town transfer station.  “He was not big on climbing a social ladder,” his friend said. “His family had social status. He thought of himself as a common working guy.”

A familiar figure in North Stonington, Letz was prone to expressing strong, often conservative opinions even if people did not necessarily want to hear them. “He would tell you what he thought,” said a friend. “He didn’t care if you were the vice president or the town bum.”

“He was not a recluse, but he didn’t make friends easily,” added one of Letz’s neighbors.  “There were periods when he wouldn’t speak to you for some unknown reason (for months at a time).”

This unusual donor has started conversation in the community with his donation to the community foundation, more than twice the size of the largest donation the foundation had ever received before.  He may have been quiet and a loner, but he was an outdoors enthusiast, known as a supporter of the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Stonington .  Letz’s donation will add $8 million to the community foundation’s $13 million in assets (out of total foundation assets of $51 million) devoted to animal and environmental issues. 

Maryam Elahi, president and chief executive of the New London-based community foundation, said that the foundation will hold community forums inviting citizen input to the potential use of the funds, which she estimate will generate $320,000 a year in perpetuity for animals and environmental causes.  Maggie Jones, the executive director of the nature center, has a bronze salamander that Letz once gave her as a gift.  Letz’s huge donation to the community foundation is a gift that Elahi and Jones might never have contemplated from this unusual, reclusive, surprising  philanthropist.—Ruth McCambridge