Photo of Dr. Fred Meyers "Peggy Humm wanted to help patients in need who don't have lots of resources" — Fred Meyers, medical director for Hospice, senior associate dean for faculty affairs and chair of the Department of Internal Medicine.

Near the end of her life, Margaret "Peggy" Humm told her two daughters something that "blew us away," as one of them put it.

She had given the UC Davis Hospice Program $50,000 to establish an endowment in memory of John Edward Humm, her son and their brother, who had died in 1999 at age 44 after an extended illness.

Had John outlived his mother, the money would have been his inheritance. Since he died before her, she decided to donate his portion of her estate to the university. Her daughters were surprised and impressed that their mother, a quiet woman who largely kept to herself, had done something so altruistic.

"It's a nice surprise when one of your parents thinks outside the box of family to help others," said Debra Fasolo.

Frederick J. Meyers, the hospice program's longtime medical director, said that the program provides care for terminally ill patients who wish to remain at home. Donations to the program, including the money from the endowment made possible by Peggy Humm, support the training of faculty and staff in end-of-life care. It also will help support an effort to expand services to a program that presently has 100 patients enrolled at any one time.

Initially set up to provide care to those terminally ill with AIDS and cancer, the program is now improving access for patients with life-threatening illnesses such as heart and liver disease, Lou Gehrig's Disease and Alzheimer's, Meyers said. The program also serves children suffering from potentially terminal illnesses. When asked why Humm made her donation, Meyers — noting that hospice provides unreimbursed care — said she "wanted to help patients in need who don't have lots of resources."

Her motivation was a little more puzzling to her daughters — but then they have long been puzzled by their mother, who lived in a well-kept home near Roseville. Fasolo's sister, Vickie Neves, went so far as to say that her mother's reserved nature made her somewhat "mysterious."

"You never knew what mom was thinking," said Neves.

As an example of how private she was, Neves said her mom never told anyone — even family members — how old she was. This didn't change until the end, when her health was failing and Neves said she began to open up. (Humm was 64 when she died in November 2005 of liver disease.)

Humm's tendency to keep her own counsel may have had something to do with what her daughters and a friend described as a difficult childhood. When she was 12, she was sent to a Catholic boarding school in her home state of New York. Her memories of that time were not particularly pleasant, recalled family friend Nancy Sills.

"They were really strict," Sills said.

But Humm had a talent — she was a whiz on roller skates. She was so good that after boarding school she competed in the roller derby circuit in her late teens. It was a high time for her. Not only did she travel the country, she traveled the world, skating with a club that toured Europe, Australia and other far-flung places.

Here again, her past throws light on a trait that became pronounced later in life — the fact that she was a homebody. Stability — and happiness — soon arrived for young Peggy in the form of a milkman named John Humm. She got to know him while he made deliveries to a Southern California donut shop that she was working in.

The two eventually married and were virtually inseparable the entire time they were together. When her husband became ill with cancer — a disease to which he succumbed in 1995 — Humm had her first experience with hospice care. Not surprisingly given the closeness of her marriage, she also had to deal with quite a bit of grief.

"When Dad passed, she was really lost," Neves said.

Four years later, she suffered another blow when her son, John Edward, died. Tall and thin, with freckles and red hair, John Edward was quiet like his mother. He did a stint in the U.S. Navy, joining at the tail end of the Vietnam War. For years he prepared meals for senior citizens through a Meals on Wheels program in the Sacramento area.

When he fell sick, John Edward was largely taken care of by Neves and never received hospice care. Nonetheless, thanks to his mother, others will be able to receive such care through UC Davis.