From wooden hut to £50m philanthropist

SHE launched a travel agency in a wooden hut in Saltcoats 51 years ago that was to became one of the UK's largest.

Today, weeks after celebrating her 85th birthday, Margie Moffat has become one of Scotland's leading philanthropists by giving 50 million to charity.

Mrs Moffat, who set up the travel agency AT Mays with her late husband, Jim, said she wanted to see the benefits to others of the donation to her family's charitable trust. The move was also prompted by the trust having to turn down applications due to limited funding.

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The addition will quadruple the value of the current 16 million Moffat Charitable Trust, established a year after Mr Moffat's death in 1998.

To mark the move, the trust has made a one-off donation of 1 million to the Princess Royal Trust for Carers in Scotland. It also plans to increase its annual payouts from 850,000 to more than 3 million, but further individual grants are not expected to be more than 250,000.

A large proportion of the money is expected to go to Scottish organisations, a move hailed by fundraisers as a major boost to the availability of such finances north of the Border.

Mrs Moffat's donation brings forward her planned legacy to the trust. She said: "I would like to do good with it. I am not going to be able to use it, so someone else should be able to use it."

The trust focuses on supporting children and young people, carers, education and training, sports, arts and communities.

The grant to the Princess Royal Trust for Carers, Britain's largest support body of its kind, will fund a pilot study in Scotland to trace and support new carers, to prevent them reaching crisis point. The trust believes the two-year project will improve carers' health and reduce the emergency readmissions to hospital of those they are looking after.

It hopes the money saved will persuade health boards and local authorities to provide long-term funding for the scheme.

Mrs Moffat's son, Jamie, who chairs the Moffat Trust, said his mother had been particularly touched after hearing from teenage carers looking after relatives as part of the Princess Royal Trust's application for funding.

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The organisation was one of the first to be supported by the Moffat Trust and has received several subsequent grants.

Ruth Clark, its assistant director, said: "The Moffat family is following a great Scottish tradition of philanthropy.

"The exceptional generosity of the family will enable us to establish a hospital-discharge package, which will have far-reaching benefits for carers and for the NHS in Scotland."

Mrs Moffat, a former nurse, persuaded her husband to leave his job in banking to go into business together, using windfalls from his successful speculation on the stock market.

They launched two businesses simultaneously in Saltcoats in 1956 - Mr Moffat ran All Pets, following up his fascination with budgies, while his wife ran All Travel, with one employee, in a wooden hut. The agency was born after they found they had to go to Glasgow to book tickets for a trip to Paris.

Business at All Travel soon outstripped that of the pet shop, thanks partly to a boom in emigration, especially to Canada.

The company changed its name to AT Mays after the Moffats bought the Mays travel business, and it grew to become the third-largest travel agency in Britain, with more than 2,500 staff and 272 branches. Mrs Moffat was a company director and ran the accounts department.

The couple sold the business to Royal Bank of Scotland in 1988, which has since sold it on to a United States firm, Carlson. However, the couple retained shares in the bank, said to be worth 90 million.

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The Sunday Times Rich List in April put the family's wealth at 108 million.


THE Moffats are just the latest in a proud tradition of Scottish philanthropists made world-famous by the Dunfermline-born billionaire Andrew Carnegie.

The steel magnate, who said "he who dies rich, dies disgraced", gave away the equivalent of 25 billion in today's money. The cash most visibly founded a network of libraries, but several trust funds continue to make grants in his name today.

Sir Tom Hunter, the retail entrepreneur and venture capitalist, is among the most prominent present-day exponents of Carnegie's legacy. He announced in July he intends to give away 1 billion of his fortune before he dies.

Sir Tom has already put more than 100 million into an education foundation in Scotland and 55 million into an initiative directed by the former United States president, Bill Clinton, to alleviate poverty in Africa. His own take on Carnegie's words is: "Some people wait until they die to hand on their legacy, but the whole point of dying a very wealthy man must be wrong."

Other major donors include the Robertson Trust, established by three sisters in 1961 using shares from their grandfather's whisky company, The Edrington Group. The trust donated 7 million last year.