Sabrina Forsythe is carrying on a legacy of her father, the late Malcolm Pray Jr,. at the Pray Achievement Center in Bedford, where she uses his extraordinary car collection to inspire thousands of underprivileged kids to realize their potential by working hard and daring to dream.
It was a year and a half ago that I had the pleasure of interviewing the man behind the mission and the impressive car collection for WAG’s “Men We Love” issue (August 2012). Pray, a longtime Greenwich icon known as much for his business success as for his philanthropy, told me how the tragic death of his only son, Malcolm III, in a car crash inspired him to establish the Pray Achievement Center in 2000 with the purpose of teaching young people how to be entrepreneurs.
“The cars are a way for me to prove to these kids that I have become an achiever on my own and they can, too,” he told me.
Through his cars he delivered a message that anything can be accomplished through hard work and a positive attitude. Pray used many of the guiding principles he learned as a Boy Scout in a booklet he handed out to young visitors titled “How to Be a Millionaire,” which teaches such concepts as valuing your reputation, trustworthiness and pride in your conduct.
On Aug. 25 of last year, the man who left an indelible mark on his community sadly passed away.
“I promised him I would continue to spread his message, but with my own spin on it,” says Forsythe, who is intent on honoring her father’s legacy at the Achievement Center with the help of her two daughters, Courtney and Nicole Fischer. The girls are students at Babson College, which, interestingly enough, is the only college to be devoted entirely to business and entrepreneurial studies.
Forsythe admits the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“They’ve picked up on what their grandfather said and they’ve learned from his message and it’s the reason he set up this foundation so that they would specifically be involved.”
Being her father’s daughter, Forsythe is direct and very much her own person who brings with her fresh ideas.
“I don’t want to change his message, but I want to add to it,” she says about the 18 points of inspiration that are detailed in the Pray Achievement Center booklet, including “Don’t be a bully.” That point in particular, is a message that resonates deeply with the Greenwich YWCA board member, who has learned firsthand through her work at the Y how bullying begins at home. (The YWCA has the largest domestic abuse program in the country.)
“I really want to get some anti-bullying campaigns up here so that’s why I plan to work together with the YWCA.”
She also plans to partner with USTA Serves, which has developed programs to enrich the lives of at-risk children and individuals with disabilities through tennis and education.
Unlike her father, who welcomed mostly Christian schools to the center, Forsythe plans to cast an even wider net by partnering with different organization as well as continuing to work with established groups.
“I’m open to any organization who thinks this will be beneficial to kids.”
Visitors to the car museum can now expect to see celebrity guest speakers, self-made men and women who will help deliver the message, like financier David Darst, who appears regularly on CNBC. There will also be car aficionados who will share their enthusiasm and knowledge as they lead guided garage tours.
Many who have offered to help are friends, because the philanthropist has spent years giving her time and money to countless charitable organizations.
As part of the estate, each of Pray’s five grandchildren (he was also father to daughters Lilly and Tina) were given five cars, with the stipulation that they remain in the museum until each grandchild turns 25. Pray also arranged to have a portion of the collection sold at auction to benefit the estate and to purchase new cars. “Because in his opinion, kids don’t know the difference between a DeLorean and a Delahaye,” says Forsythe about the extremely rare Delahaye that was Pray’s crown jewel and would go on to fetch a record-setting $6.6 million.
In all, 16 automobiles from Pray’s one-of-kind car collection were sold at the prestigious RM Auctions in Amelia Island, Fla. They included that rare 1937 Delahaye 135 Competition Court Torpedo Roadster by Figoni et Falaschi, a stunning 1961 Ferrari 250 GT Series II Cabriolet by Pininfarina and a 1957 BMW 507 Series II Roadster. Held in association with the Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance, collectors from across the world met at The Ritz-Carlton there to celebrate the automobile and bid on some of the world’s finest marques.
“I’m going to ‘re-jiggle’ the cars,” Forsythe says about the automobiles she plans to buy after the auction, cars that kids can relate to.
Forsythe has always been a socialite with a cause. She was presented at three debutante balls, a tradition that she was glad to see her daughters continue when they were among six women from Greenwich at the 58th International Debutante Ball held in December of 2012 at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan.
While Forsythe remembers her experience as a round of great parties, she told the Greenwich Time that there is more to being a debutante than having fun. The International Debutante Ball supports numerous charities.
“I want (my daughters) to understand the value of volunteering. For all its pomp and circumstance, it is a fundraiser.”
Indeed, supporting charities has been a way of life for Forsythe and her family.
“Not only was my dad extremely patriotic, he really believed the American dream included giving back to the organizations that help people better their lives. It’s what I was brought up to do.
“It started years ago when my brother passed away,” she recalls about the time she first cut her teeth fundraising when her dad enlisted her help to build The Malcolm S. Pray III Memorial Building, a meeting hall at the Boy Scouts’ Seton Reservation on Riversville Road.
“We started out doing polo matches and we had a ball out in the backyard to benefit the Boys Scouts and then we went into a letter-writing campaign,” she says.
It wasn’t long before the American Red Cross came calling. (Forsythe is one of Greenwich’s longest-standing Red Cross volunteers). Other organizations soon followed, including the YWCA, Greenwich Adult Day Care, the Greenwich Historical Society and the Bruce Museum.
Now, Forsythe plans to rev things up at the Achievement Center as she shifts her fundraising into high gear.
For more, visit prayachievementcenter.com.