“He loved the Navy, and he loved being on ships.” That’s how Britt Zeller describes the career of her late husband, Rear Admiral Raymond “Guy” Zeller. The Navy was Admiral Zeller’s life for 29 years, and it was Britt’s life too.
But when he passed away, Britt suddenly faced unexpected challenges. Though she paid household bills, Guy had always taken care of the family’s finances, and Britt found herself sorting through accounts and balances and taxes. “For a time,” she says, “it was a good deal of confusion.” There was a lot she simply wasn’t aware of, even down to passwords and PIN numbers for accounts that Guy had always handled.
Still, Britt worked her way through it. “Part of my learning curve in handling our finances,” she says, “involved deciding on what charities to support.”
Britt always gave to charity over the years, including the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. She’d write checks here and there, but she never had a plan. That changed with her newfound introduction to personal finance. “Since I was at the age that I was required to take a distribution from our IRAs,” she says, “I sat down and made a clear-eyed list of the charities I wanted to back.”
That’s how Britt came to make a generous gift to the Society from her IRA account. “As a commanding officer, my husband’s commands had a lot of Sailors,” she says. “I would hear the stories of people with credit card debt, a sick child, a need to get back home for a parent or grandparent who’s ill, and the Society was always there.”
Britt knows what it means to serve, and Guy certainly did too. At the beginning of his career, he held several junior officer positions on ships. He soon became executive officer, and then commanding officer of a ship. He was commanding officer of two more ships after that, followed by a squadron of ships. In his last seagoing appointment, he was in charge of a cruiser destroyer group, with the USS Enterprise as his flag ship. He retired as a rear admiral.
Britt and Guy moved a lot during his Navy career. “We’d be in a town that was home port, and whatever job he had would take him on a cruise or on operations,” she says. “And in between, there were several times we’d be in Washington D.C. for work in the Pentagon.”
It can be difficult being a Navy spouse, but Britt wouldn’t change a thing. “It’s serving your country,” she says. “That’s what it’s all about.”
This same sense of duty, honor, and service prompted Britt to give her gift to the Society. What’s more, it has a real impact and personal benefits as well. For example, Britt received tax advantages from her gift, which was made from an IRA distribution. But the main reason is the need she sees among Sea Service families. “We have young enlisted men and women living on food stamps,” she says with alarm. “I only hope my gift can help with the difficulties that young Sailors, Marines, and their families are struggling with,” she says. “I only hope it can make their lives a little easier.”
By Betsy Rosenblatt Rosso