The billionaire philanthropist Joan Kroc, the widow of the founder of the McDonaldís fast food chain, has left more than $1.5 billion (£830 million) to the Salvation Army in the biggest single donation to the organisation.
The bequest puts Mrs Kroc in the top level of charity donors. She joins Bill Gates, Ted Turner and David Packard in making single donations of more than billion.
In 1999, Mr Gates, the founder of Microsoft, made the largest single donation on record giving more than billion to a foundation in his fatherís name.
Mr Turner, the media mogul who was married to the actress Jane Fonda, donated more than billion to the United Nations in 1997, while Mr Packard, the founder of Hewlett Packard, donated about billion to a family charity in 1996.
Mrs Kroc, 75, who died at her home in San Diego, California, in October after a short battle with brain cancer, follows the example of a fellow fast-food chain owner, Tom Monaghan, the founder of Domino Pizza, who donated billion to his charitable foundation in 1998.
The flamboyant heiress enjoyed the high life, owning a private jet, many houses and a yacht. She also owned the San Diego-based Padres baseball team in the 1980s.
Mrs Kroc, whose husband, Ray, died in 1984, was also a peace campaigner who donated generously to anti-war causes.
Her estate, estimated to run into billions, will also be divided for other causes, including: National Public Radio, which is expected to get 0 million; the Ronald McDonald charities foundation ( million); the Institute for International Peace Studies at Notre Dame Catholic university in Indiana ( million), and the University of San Diego centre of peace studies ( million).
The Salvation Army said trustees of the estate have estimated that the gift could be in excess of .5 billion. The bequest was for the development of community centres across the United States. The exact amount will not be known until administration of Mrs Krocís estate is complete.
According to Forbes magazine, the Salvation Armyís assets in the US in 2003 were .867 billion, and its revenue for that year was .497 billion.
Todd Bassett, the US national commander of the Salvation Army, said: "We are obviously thrilled but genuinely humbled, by the exceptional generosity of Joan Kroc. We recognise the deep sense of trust she has placed into our hands with this gift. Mrs Kroc was a wonderful friend of the Salvation Army and we miss her. Her passion for children and families, and her hope for community peace will live on forever through this incredible gift."
Mr Bassett said the donation specifies that half the money be placed in an endowment with the earnings used to partially support operation of the centres. The other half is for construction of the new centres. None of the gift is to be used for existing programmes, services or administrative costs.
Colman McCarthy, the director of the Centre for Teaching Peace in Washington, said: "There was her outward wealth, which didnít much distinguish her from those on the annual lists of the worldís richest people, but she had inner wealth that did - an active and often restless conscience that earned her a revered place in the peace movement."
"Joan Krocís generosity to peace and antiwar groups was unrivalled, both in the amounts she gave and in her disinterest in being hailed."
Mrs Kroc gave million to the Salvation Army in 1998, while in 1986, she gave Notre Dame university a million gift and reluctantly allowed the Institute for International Peace Studies to be named after her. In 2001, she donated more than million to San Diego University for its peace studies programme.
Mr McCarthy added: "She also donated to the Special Olympics, homeless shelters, hospitals, hospices and relief organisations. Grateful to National Public Radio for its coverage of the US war against Iraq, which she adamantly opposed, she left the non-profit organisation 0 million."