The Barbara Woodward Lips Atrium in the Mayo Clinic's Charlton Building opened in 1989. Lips even created a fund to ensure the atrium would always have fresh flowers. Barbara Woodward Lips liked the finer things in life.

She lived in a $1.2 million mansion in an exclusive San Antonio enclave, collected rare 19th century French furniture and loved to wear lavish jewelry, including a 51.24-carat, European-cut single stone diamond ring valued at close to $600,000.

But it wasn't always that way. Her parents divorced when she was young, and she and her two brothers were raised by their mother in a small Oklahoma town near the Texas border during the Depression.

She worked her way through secretarial school and later married a Texas gas, oil and ranching entrepreneur. She surrounded herself in luxury and filled her home with elegant antiques.

Still, the number of people who visited her home and saw her extensive antique collection could be counted on one or two hands, said David Lawrence, chairman of the Mayo Foundation's development department.

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``The nature of the lady is somewhat defined by the style in which she lived,'' Lawrence said. ``She was very proud of this, but she was also very private.''

When Lips died last year at 81, she left her $127.9 million estate to the Mayo Foundation. Leaving her estate to Mayo had always been her plan, said Larry Martin, a San Antonio banker who's serving as a consultant to her estate.

``Mayo was always her favorite,'' said Martin, who knew Lips for 20 years. ``She just thought they were the greatest in the world. I can't think of a time when she had thought of doing anything else with her support. There was no other institution or charity that had her interest like Mayo did.''

Lips loved what Mayo did for mankind, for her and her family, Martin said. Lips, who came to Mayo for medical treatment for more than 40 years, was treated most recently for pulmonary fibrosis, and her husband, Charles Lips, was treated for Parkinson's disease, an ailment that eventually claimed his life, her brother Kenneth Woodward said.

Charles Lips died in 1970; they had no children.

In 1971, the Charles Storch Lips Memorial Laboratory for Neurochemistry in Mayo's Medical Sciences Building was named in his memory. The Barbara Woodward Lips Atrium in the Charlton Building, which includes a large open area and a wall of flowing water, opened in 1989. Lips even created a fund to ensure the atrium always would have fresh flowers.

She loved fresh flowers, but enjoyed collecting even more.

``Her hobby was her collection,'' said Martin, her banker who is also serving as a consultant to her estate. ``She loved to collect antiques. She loved the Louis periods of French antiques and she loved dolls,'' he said, noting that she had a collection of antique porcelain costumed dolls.

Her pleasure in collecting fine objects might have been because her family couldn't afford them while she was growing up in Durant, Okla.

``Mother raised us three and it was awful and not because of her, but because of the lack of any finances,'' said Woodward, of Duncan, Okla.

Lips, whom Woodward called ``Sister,'' was trained as a secretary. ``She was a hard worker,'' Woodward said. ``I mean she stayed with anything and did well in it. Any kind of work, she would do her dead-level best.''

``Sister'' lived with Woodward and his wife, Juliette, in Broken Bow, Okla., for a year, and worked for a lumber mill superintendent before taking a position as a secretary for the federal government in Paris, Texas.

``The boss from Dallas was calling her boss and her boss wasn't in, so she handled the situation,'' Woodward said. ``The boss from Dallas said, `I want that girl in my office' -- and that boss was a friend of Mr. Lips. Isn't that romantic?''

When Charles Lips died, his wife took over managing and increasing the properties the couple had. The estate included thousands of acres of ranchland and mineral rights in north Texas and Kansas.

``She was a very active, astute, savvy businesswoman,'' Lawrence said.

Despite her fortune and membership in exclusive old-money clubs such as the Argyle Club and the San Antonio County Club, Lips continued to be the same fun, loving and competitive person, Woodward said.

``She'd always try to beat me at something -- running in front of the house and different things. For me, it was (in fun), but she was kind of serious about it.''

Lips gave her brother and sister-in-law an inheritance of $1 million in 1986, Woodward said. The retired teachers used the money to set up two scholarships in memory of their son, Kenneth Woodward Jr., who died of leukemia when he was 20.

The scholarships are awarded to graduates from Duncan High School who attend either Oklahoma State University or Oklahoma University.

Close to 35 Duncan students have benefitted from Lips' bequest to the Woodwards; her bequest to Mayo ``will help more people there than probably any place we could think of,'' Woodward said. The money will be used to advance the fields of patient care, research and education.

Lips' entire jewelry collection was sold and many pieces of her furniture were auctioned in October by the world-famous Christie's auction house for more than $7.7 million at three sales in New York. A sapphire and diamond necklace with a detachable 173.77-carat sapphire pendant fetched $420,500; a diamond tassel necklace brought $222,500. The large, single-stone diamond ring went for $596,500.

``Once she got that big diamond, she insisted on wearing it,'' Woodward said. ``She was going to New York a lot, and we didn't think it was safe, but we decided everyone would think it was glass, so she got away with it. She said, `I didn't buy this to put in the safety deposit box.' ''

According to Bexar County records, the couple's mansion, built in 1936 on a block and a half in an exclusive area called Terrell Hills, was valued at $1.2 million in 1995. The asking price is $1.4 million, according to the San Antonio Express News, and Mick Jagger and Jerry Hall have been among those who have considered purchasing the property.

Some pieces of furniture and artwork have not been sold. A few items, including Tiffany lamps, a French vase and a music box, were selected to decorate the Mayo Foundation House in southwest Rochester; other items have been shipped to Mayo's Scottsdale and Jacksonville campuses.

The rest of her personal property will be auctioned off later this month and in May, Lawrence said. The auctions will be in New Orleans, a city known for the French style of antiques Lips collected.

``From Mayo's standpoint, we want them in a market where they'll have the most potential for yield,'' he said.

After all, you don't get a multimillion-dollar bequest every day.@et