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Scottish widow leaves millions for opera, birds

A Scottish widow with twin passions for birds and music has left most of her $16.6 million fortune to New York's Metropolitan Opera and a British nature charity.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Mona Webster had two passions: birds and music.

The Scottish widow, who died in August at the age of 96, traveled the world well into old age in pursuit of both. In her will, she left the bulk of her $16.6 million fortune to New York's Metropolitan Opera and a British nature charity.

The BBC and British newspapers reported that Webster's will bequeathed the opera company and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust about $7.5 million each.

Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust spokeswoman Jane Waghorn confirmed Wednesday that lawyers for Webster's estate had informed the organization about the bequest, but not the amount.

"We believe it's substantial," she said.

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, told the New York Times that Webster had fallen in love with the Met through its Saturday radio broadcasts. She was last at the house for a performance on opening night in 2000. “She said it was the most wonderful night of her life,” he said.

Britain's Royal Opera House and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution confirmed they had received smaller bequests of about $165,000.

Royal Opera spokeswoman Elizabeth Bell said the company was grateful for the donation — and not jealous of the New York opera's larger sum.

"She was a friend here for many years and had given other generous donations in the past," Bell said.

Following a passion
Mona Margaret Webster was born in 1913 on the Isle of Man, the daughter of a lighthouse keeper, and grew up on the remote and wild Orkney islands, where she developed her love of birds.

As a young woman joined the civil service, working in London during the World War II blitz before moving to Edinburgh. For years she worked for the Inland Revenue — and invested wisely, building up a substantial portfolio of property and shares.

A gardener at her Edinburgh home, Webster also went on music-loving and bird-watching holidays with her husband Ted. She continued her travels after his death in 1981. The Royal Opera said she attended performances into her late 80s.

Webster died Aug. 27 in Edinburgh. The family's death notice in The Scotsman newspaper said she would be "remembered particularly for her love of music, rare birds, her gardening and embroidery skills."