Paul Mellon: Amo, Amas, Amateur
Paul Mellon KBE (11 June 1907 - 1 February 1999) was an American philanthropist and Thoroughbred racehorse owner/breeder who is one of the only four people ever designated "Exemplars of Racing" by the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame. He was co-heir to one of America's greatest business fortunes, created by his grandfather Thomas Mellon, his father Andrew W. Mellon, and his father's brother Richard B. Mellon. In 1957, when Fortune prepared its first list of the wealthiest Americans, it estimated that Paul Mellon, his sister Ailsa Mellon-Bruce, and his cousins Sarah Mellon and Richard King Mellon, were all amongst the richest eight people in the United States, with fortunes of between 400 and 700 million dollars each.
Paul Mellon's autobiography, Reflections in a Silver Spoon ISBN 0-688-09723-5, was published in 1992. He died at his home, Oak Spring, in Upperville, Virginia, on February 1, 1999. He was survived by his wife "Bunny", and his children, Catherine Conover (first wife of John Warner) and Timothy Mellon.
Paul Mellon was the son of Andrew W. Mellon, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury from 1921 to 1932; and brother of Ailsa Mellon-Bruce. He attended Choate, now Choate Rosemary Hall, and graduated from Yale University, where he became a member of the prestigious Yale secret society Scroll and Key and served as vice-chairman of the Yale Daily News. He was always loyal to his alma mater, donating two residential colleges and the Yale Center for British Art. After graduating from Yale he went to England to study at Clare College, Cambridge receiving a BA in 1931, while his father served as the U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James form 1932 to 1933.
Mellon returned to Pittsburgh, United States, to work for Mellon Bank for six months and other businesses. In 1935, he married Mary Conover Brown and the couple moved to Virginia. In 1938, he earned an MA from Clare.
He enrolled at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland in 1940 but six months later joined the United States Army, asking to join the cavalry. Mellon served with the Office of Strategic Services in Europe. He rose to the rank of major and was the recipient of four Bronze Star Medals.
After his wife Mary's death in 1946 from an asthma attack, he married Rachel Lambert Lloyd who he affectionatly called "Bunny", a descendant of the Lambert family who formulated and marketed Listerine and an heiress to the Warner-Lambert corporate fortune (Warner-Lambert is now part of Pfizer, following a 2000 merger). Bunny was an avid horticulturalist and gardener, whose fondness for French Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painting, as well as American art, Mellon came to share.
While Mellon did not share his father's interest in business, the two found common ground in their love of art and philanthropy. Shortly before Andrew Mellon's death in 1937, construction began on the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., for which Andrew Mellon had provided funds. Four years later Paul Mellon presented both the building by John Russell Pope and his father's collection of 115 paintings to the nation. He served on the museum's board for more than four decades: as trustee, as president (twice), as board chair, and as honorary trustee. Mellon commissioned I. M. Pei to build the East Wing and, with his sister Ailsa, provided funds for its construction in the late 1970s. Over the years he and his wife Bunny donated more than 1,000 works to the National Gallery, among them many French and American masterworks.
In 1936 Mellon purchased his first British painting, "Pumpkin with a Stable-lad" by George Stubbs, who became a lifetime favorite of Mellon's. In the late 1950's and with the help of English art historian Basil Taylor, Mellon amassed a major collection by the mid-1960's. London art dealer Geoffrey Agnew once said of his acquisitions: "It took an American collector to make the English look again at their own paintings."
Mellon granted his extensive collection of British art, rare books, and related materials to Yale University in the 1960s, along with the funding to create an appropriate museum to house it (designed by Louis Kahn). He characteristically insisted that it not be named in honor of him, but rather would be called the Yale Center for British Art, to encourage others to support it as well. Mellon also provided extensive endowment support to fund not only operations but also an ongoing program of acquisitions, and he made a generous bequest to the Center at the time of his death. The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art was founded in 1970 through a generous grant to Yale University, as a London-based affiliate of the New Haven center, to encourage study of British art and culture both at the undergraduate and the research scholar levels.
Mellon also provided important leadership gifts to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, Virginia, as well as Choate Rosemary Hall.
Mellon owned many thoroughbred horses under his Rokeby Stables including Kentucky Derby winner, Sea Hero and the European champions, Mill Reef and Gold and Ivory. He won the Eclipse Award for Outstanding Breeder in 1971 and again in 1986.
Mellon established the Old Dominion Foundation in 1941 and the Bollingen Foundation in 1945, both to support advancement and learning of the humanities and liberal education. The Bollingen Foundation published over 100 books before closing in 1969, the same year the assets of the Old Dominion Foundation were merged into those of the his sister Ailsa's Avalon Foundation. The combined organization was renamed The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in honor of their father.
Paul Mellon's foremost philanthropic interest was his alma mater, Yale University. His most generous and well-known gifts established the Yale Center for British Art, but his legacy makes itself felt across the campus.
Mellon's other major gift was to provide extensive funding to support the creation of two new undergraduate residential colleges at Yale, Ezra Stiles College and Morse College. Design by Eero Saarinen, these colleges along with the Kahn-designed British Art Center demonstrated Mellon's commitment to bringing modern architecture to Yale. Perhaps most important, the additional undergraduate capacity that these colleges provided were a critical prerequisite to the ability of the university to transition to co-education.
Beyond these capital gifts, Mellon also supported Yale in a variety of additional ways. Without naming them for himself, he endowed the deanships of each of Yale's 12 residential colleges, a significant gift that helped to solidify these positions that contribute significantly to student life. He created the Mellon Senior Forum program, which provides a weekly meal for seniors in each of the residential colleges where they can share progress on their senior essays and projects with one another, allowing students to avoid becoming too narrowly focused on their major, which is widely considered a signature feature of Yale's senior year.
Mellon was extremely active in ways large and small in the humanities. He provided the funding necessary to create the Directed Studies program of intense freshman-year focus on the humanities. He gave significant support to two undergraduate majors, theater studies and the humanities. And of course, he endowed named professorships in schools throughout the University, particularly in humanistic fields.
Mellon was highly supportive of causes that advanced the preservation of horses, including the Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. That organization allocates grants towards specfic research projects for the safety, welfare, longevity and improvement of life for races horses.
He donated the $1 million bonus that Sea Hero won in the Chrysler Triple Crown Challenge to the United States Jockey Club's Grayson-Jockey Club Research Foundation. Further more he requested that double that amount be raised in response to his donation. That goal was met during the 1995-1996 fiscal year. Upon his death he left yet another $2.5 million to the Foundation's endowment.
Paul Mellon was a trustee of the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame and one of the only four people ever designated "Exemplars of Racing" by the Hall of Fame. He was also inducted into the Virginia Sports Hall of Fame and the English Jockey Club Hall of Fame.
Among honors, he was made an Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (K.B.E.) in 1974, awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1985, and awarded the National Medal of Arts and Humanities in 1997.
"I have been an amateur in every phase of my life; an amateur poet, an amateur scholar, an amateur horseman, an amateur farmer, an amateur soldier, an amateur connoisseur of art, an amateur publisher, and an amateur museum executive. The root of the word "amateur" is the Latin word for love, and I can honestly say that I've thoroughly enjoyed all the roles I have played." - Paul Mellon from his autobiography "Reflections in a Silver Spoon"