O.C.’s Nella Webster O’Grady Honored as Outstanding Philanthropist

Nella Webster O’Grady is honored as Outstanding Philanthropist, having used her experience, compassion, and relationships to lift nonprofits.
Photograph by Emily J. Davis

Born in Panama, Webster grew up on Guam, where her father was an engineer and worked for the U.S. government. “The U.S. Naval Hospital on Guam is where all the service people were sent when they were injured (during the Vietnam War). My father was a ham radio operator, and he would come home for three hours in the middle of the day and tie up with a radio operator in California. The (wounded) boys would line up at the hospital to make a collect call to their parents, costing maybe 30 cents a minute instead of $10 a minute for a long-distance call. It would bring tears to my eyes when I would hear these parents on the phone who were so grateful to hear their sons were alive. … (Giving) time and talent was always something I saw in my parents, and I always did it myself that way. I’ve been a philanthropist since I was a kid.”

“Girl Scouts is a lot of the reason that I am who I am today,” says the managing director of Miracle Mile Advisors, and it’s easy to see how her drive to help women arose. “There were only three women in the undergraduate program in financial services at Chapman when I was there. I’m used to being a woman in a minority situation. That’s part of my passion for philanthropy and the Girl Scouts. I was the youngest manager at Security Pacific Bank at 26. Women who were the wives of retired CEOs—many of them had degrees, but they never worked because of the generation they were in—would come in and be so happy I was there. So I’ve always been grateful for women who preceded me.” She serves on boards for Girl Scouts Orange County, WHW (formerly Women Helping Women), and WISE (Women Investing in Security and Education), among others.

“I get more joy from the philanthropy than I do from my job.”

As a kid, Webster surfed every day, even winning third place in the Guam International Surfing Championship (a trophy she still has). “I wanted to go to a college where I could take my surfboard. I went to Chapman to check it out, and they gave me a $250 scholarship. At that time, my sister lived in El Toro and was married to a Marine, so I had family here. … The water was too cold, so I wound up selling my surfboard and took up snow skiing!”

Her involvement with Mission Plasticos—local cosmetic surgeons who go to remote areas in other countries to help with cleft palates or burns and to train other surgeons—started more than a decade ago. “Early on, my husband and I met the founders of Mission Plasticos. We were so moved by their work that we managed that fund pro bono. We tripled the amount they have to fund trips. I’m not a born salesperson. I’m a great connector and relationship builder. When you focus on relationships, … (the money) part comes to you.”

She has advice for people who want to donate. “Some of my proudest moments as a mother are when I realized that I raised a son who wanted to give back. … I’m hoping that many of us, as we get to a point where our kids are fine and we’re fine, are going to be more philanthropic going forward. There are many very wealthy people who have never thought about donating from their IRA. There are great ways people can consider helping.”

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