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NEWORLEANS- The United Way of Southeast Louisiana calls it the largest-ever single gift from an individual.

On Friday, Latter & Blum chairman and chief executive Robert Merrick presented the agency with a check for $1 million.

Merrick surprised United Way staffers with the donation at a luncheon at Galatoire's.

Merrick, a longtime civic and business leader, is chairman of Latter & Blum, the largest real estate operation in the south.

With Friday's donation, he joins an elite group the United Way Million Dollar Roundtable, a national membership reserved for such generous donors.

Merrick is the first individual to donate $1 million to a United Way in Louisiana or Mississippi.

'I was not born wealthy and I believe in helping those who are down on their luck pull themselves up by their own bootstraps,' Merrick said in a statement. 'Second, I hope to encourage more people with the ability to give, to do so.'

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