Queen of Mean's hard face cracks frombeyond the grave with a £2bn donation

Leona Helmsley's generosity in death will benefit a lot of 'little people who pay taxes'
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The Independent US

If you believe in stereotypes, last week was not a good one. Slate magazine produced its annual list of the largest US charitable contributors, and guess who gave the most?

Bill Gates? Warren Buffet? George Soros? Not even close.

Step forward, metaphorically speaking, the late Leona Helmsley, aka the Queen of Mean – a woman who last year went to her final rest in a steam-cleaned mausoleum with her reputation for aggravated rich-bitchiness as rigidly intact as her double-Botoxed, triple-lifted features.

She it was, the hard-faced old grasper, who left her dog $12m (£6m) but her grandsons nada unless they visited their father's grave. She it was who disinherited two other grandchildren, who sued her dead son's estate for money she said was owing, and who evicted her recently bereaved daughter-in-law from her home. And she, it famously was, who once said "only the little people pay taxes".

But little people don't leave $4bn to charity when they die. Leona, amazingly, did; all four billion notes of it – as much as the cost to the US each month of being in Iraq, the price of 10 years of the worldwide polio eradication programme, and damn nearly what you would raise in the UK if you stuck a penny on everyone's income tax.

The four very big ones (nearly quadruple the giving of any other American last year) will go to the Leona M and Harry B Helmsley Charitable Trust.

Among good causes and works it supports are: Greenwich Hospital, the Helen Keller National Center for Deaf-Blind Youths and Adults, and the Alzheimer's Association. She also gave $5m to the families of New York firefighters in the wake of 9/11.

The year's other big givers are Baron Hilton of hotels fame – $1.2bn; George Soros, the financial wizard – $474.6m; and Michael Bloomberg, the media magnate and residing mayor of New York – $205m.

And so Leona will go down to posterity in rather better odour than she lived, ever demandingly, among us. She was hard, tyrannical to staff (she once made a waiter in one of her hotels beg on his knees for his job after serving a cup of tea with a smidgen of water in the saucer), and petulantly fired one man when she discovered he was gay. But, in the years to come, thousands of Americans will owe their lives to the medical facilities her billions will provide. Why, the woman's very nearly a saint.