It’s not uncommon for donors to wish to remain anonymous, but the Whitworth Mystery Man took anonymity to a whole new level. Beginning in June 1988, 17 current and former professors and staff members received gifts of travel, equipment for their departments, and notes of gratitude, all signed with the name “M.M.”
Chemistry Professor Bob Bocksch received a call from a travel agent in Bremerton, Wash., who let him know that a two-week vacation in Hawaii had been arranged for him by M.M. Mathematics professor and Whitworth alum Howard Gage received a similar notice; Gage traveled to Great Britain, accompanied by John Carlson, who had been Gage’s math professor during his student days at Whitworth. Carlson, age 87 at the time, also visited Sweden, and he received an additional trip to Hawaii five months later as a gift from M.M. Art professor Spike Grosvenor, who later designed the leaded-glass installation in the HUB dining hall, was treated to a three-week tour of England’s stained-glass churches. The mystery gifts became especially personal when Grosvenor’s son, Dennis, a musician in L.A. who couldn’t afford a trip home, showed up on his parents’ doorstep for a Christmas visit, courtesy of M.M.
Little was known about the Mystery Man, as he came to be dubbed, other than the fact that he was a grateful Whitworth graduate who just wanted to say “thank you.” Theories abounded as to his location and the era in which he graduated. News of these extraordinary gifts circulated in Spokane, where an article on Whitworth’s Mystery Man appeared in The Spokesman-Review on Christmas Day, 1989. That story was picked up by the Associated Press, and ran on CBS “This Morning,” in Newsweek and The New York Times, as well as in newspapers around the country and as far away as Germany, Japan and Saudi Arabia. Even The Reader’s Digest included a story about M.M. and his generosity.
In the meantime, morale on campus was high. The mystery was one that professors were happy to leave unsolved. Retired biology professor Nicolin Gray received a call from the Mystery Man, who explained that he had been one of her students, but she was unable to guess his identity. He sent her and her husband, professor emeritus of journalism, Al Gray, on a trip to New Zealand. “We could probably never have done it on our own,” she said in an article published in the Los Angeles Times. Psychology professor Patricia MacDonald, another recipient of a Hawaii vacation, said in that same article, “The experience changed me . . . I look for ways now that I can express my own generosity.”
M.M.’s travel agent, who arranged the faculty members’ vacations, accepted an alumni award on her client’s behalf in 1990. He sent along a letter of gratitude to share with the audience, in which he wrote to faculty, “Your students have not forgotten you. In their quiet moments, they all know what you have done for them. I for one know you have expanded my horizon, and you have given me a good life. My regret is that I didn’t start acknowledging my appreciation much earlier.”