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Seven Oamaru groups will benefit by more than $750,000 from the estate of former Oamaru auctioneer and real estate agent Percival Mulligan, who died in 1985.
The first distribution of $500,000 has been made, three North Otago Organisations - the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust, Waitaki Heritage Fund and Waitaki District Council - each receiving $125,000.
The fourth recipient was the Order of St John national headquarters, which also received $125,000.
About $400,000 is expected to be distributed in the future in equal shares to four other North Otago organisations.
Mr Mulligan's daughter, Eleanor Sweeney, who lives in Christchurch and has already contributed to North Otago, including in the form of the 12 Colin Wheeler Oamaru panels hanging in the opera house foyer, surrendered her life interest in the estate to enable an early distribution.
The bequest to the trust is for the development and maintenance of the 17 historic buildings it owns in Oamaru.
Trust chairman Marcus Brown said bequests this large were rare and an ''absolute godsend''. The bequest could be used to obtain other grants or to consider a major development project.
Some of the money would be used to repaint window frames and doors on buildings in the historic precinct and the rest would be ''money in the bank''.
The Waitaki Heritage Fund was jointly established by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust and the council in 1992 (replacing the North Otago Heritage Fund), to encourage the retention, preservation, conservation and maintenance of historic buildings and sites in the Waitaki district.
The bequest to the council was for the benefit of the Oamaru Public Gardens, the restoration of council-owned heritage buildings and development of sports and sporting facilities in North Otago.
Mr Mulligan was born in Ireland in 1898 and arrived in New Zealand in 1915. After serving in World War 1, he established a stock and station agency in Taumarunui.
During the 1920s, he came to Oamaru and, with a partner, formed Mulligan and Forbes in Wear St, a business which lasted for more than 50 years.
He was also involved in community organisations and sports.