The biggest heart in Maine history is not an industry tycoon, corporate CEO or dot-com millionaire.
This giant among charitable donors is not a man, either.
She is the late Elizabeth B. Noyce, a multi-millionaire from Massachusetts who gave away $75 million during the 20 years she lived in Maine.
Philanthropist Noyce died in 1996. But the Libra Foundation, which she founded, continues her legacy today, making donations to causes and institutions in Maine, from buying first books for young children to growing museums’ art collections.
From 1989-2009, the Libra Foundation handed out a staggering $145 million, according to president Owen Wells.
“For a small state like Maine, we all benefit from the foresight of Mrs. Noyce and other (philanthropists) who have followed her,” Wells said.
Historically, women were not leaders in charitable giving in the U.S. They did not have the resources, power or influence. But that trend changed, as ranks of women joined the work force, gained higher education and amassed wealth. They also increased charitable giving.
“Women are the fastest growing force in philanthropy. They give more and more often than their male counterparts,” said Elizabeth Stefanski, who directs the Maine Women’s Fund.
Women control 51 percent of the personal wealth in the U.S. and one third of all private businesses, she notes, according to the Women Donors Network.
Women also have a stronger hold on purse strings than ever before.
“About 41 percent of the 3.3 million Americans with incomes greater than $500K are women,” notes Donna Hall, president of the Women Donors Network, on the group’s Web site.
Maine women seem to be setting the bar for giving, not just in the state but across the U.S.
Wells compares the leadership of Maine’s female philanthropists to the Maine women filling top leadership roles in politics. Three of the four members of Maine’s congressional delegation are women.
“If you look at the history of Maine leaders with women politicians – from Margaret Chase Smith to Chellie Pingree – you can see where Maine has been and where it is going in philanthropy,” Wells said.
From the pioneering efforts of Noyce to the bold initiatives of business maverick Roxanne Quimby, here’s a look at five female philanthropists who have focused significant charitable giving to preserving and improving the quality of life in Maine:
Modest and down-to-earth, Noyce seemed to embody Maine values, even though she was born in Boston.
Noyce “never wanted attention on herself. She did not want her legacy to be about her but about what she had done,” Wells said.
Noyce arrived in Maine in 1976, as a newly independent, wealthy woman, after divorcing Intel Corp. founder Robert Noyce.
She was a philanthropist and entrepreneur, directing her giving to efforts that led to jobs and employment for Maine people. She called it “catalytic philanthropy.”
She founded Maine Bank and Trust and acquired the J.J. Nissen Co., when it was struggling to continue operations in the state. Noyce built a $50 million modern baking facility in Biddeford, saving hundreds of jobs and revitalizing the company.
She did not limit her giving in dollars and cents, but in geography. She focused almost exclusively on Maine.
Noyce gave to the Farnsworth Museum, the Monhegan Island Museum, Maine Coast Heritage Trust, the Maine Community Foundation, the Island Institute, Miles Memorial Hospital and the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy.
According to the Libra Foundation of Portland, it used $28 million to provide more than 33,500 camp experiences to schoolchildren. It also funds the Raising Readers program, which provides books to all children born in Maine between birth and age 5.
Quimby’s life story could be a Hollywood movie.
A graduate from the San Francisco Art Institute, Quimby settled in central Maine, using her life savings to buy 30 acres. The house where she raised her twins had no electricity or running water.
The divorced mother of twins founded Burt’s Bees in 1984, a natural line of personal care products, making the first batch of lip balm and candles on her kitchen stove.
She and her friend, Burt Shavitz, a beekeeper, grew their tiny operation into a multimillion dollar business. Quimby eventually bought out her partner.
Burt’s Bees later was sold to a private equity firm, with Quimby retaining a sizeable stake. In 2007, Clorox announced plans to buy the company.
Quimby used her wealth to pursue a new passion: preserving the Maine wilderness for future generations. She has bought and conserved vast tracts of wilderness in the North Woods, with the goal of developing a national park.
The proposed park could span 3.2 million acres, bigger than Yellowstone and Yosemite combined.
Some think that Quimby is tilting windmills. Then again, who would have predicted that this back-to-the-land single mom would create an internationally renowned personal care products company?
In 2009, the Quimby Family Foundation of Portland gave to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the Center for Maine Craft, the Center Theatre for Performing Arts, College of the Atlantic, Fiddlehead Center for the Arts, Greater Portland Landmarks, Maine Audubon and the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies, among other charities.
Kate Cheney Chappell
Chappell and her husband, Tom, co-founded Tom’s of Maine of Kennebunk, growing a family business into a household name for natural care products.
The couple also made a mission of giving back to the community.
As vice president of Tom’s, she led a 10 percent charitable giving program, which helped support the arts, social needs, education and the environment.
Since selling Tom’s to Colate-Palmolive, the Chappells have increased their focus on giving. They work through the Nature Conservancy to support sustainable management of the Gulf of Maine.
They recently donated 5,000 pieces of wool clothing made at their commercial farm, Ramblers Way.
Kate Chappell also is an artist and recently gave a financial gift to the University of Southern Maine to develop a center for book arts.
The Kate Cheney Chappell Center for Book Arts opened in 2008 at Glickman Family Library on the Portland campus.
It is common for women donors to give to causes that resonate in their own lives. Guiles’ generosity underscores that practice.
With family members affected by mental illness, Guiles has chosen to give to charities that help adults with mental illness.
Working with the Maine Community Foundation, she has made grants to Elderworks, Community Counseling Services and Tri-County Mental Health Services, to name a few.
She has directed some of her giving to agencies like the Rural Community Action Ministry in Leeds, where the money benefits clients with urgent needs not met by state funding.
“The current fiscal crises in Augusta and in Washington have put terrible pressures on the agencies which assist clients on an outpatient basis,” Guiles notes.
A science editor and gardener, Guiles notes that her family was not wealthy when she grew up but still supported causes important to them.
Her late husband, Phil Guiles, also a philanthropist, served on the board of Opportunity Farm for Boys and Girls, a residential facility in New Gloucester.
Catharine Guiles also supports the Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay, where she volunteered in the past.
The granddaughter of publisher Guy Gannett, Corson grew up in a family that built a media empire in Maine.
At 73, she describes herself as retired but still actively supporting the causes and issues she believes in.
“I like putting people together and knowing someone else who is the tipping point, who can be the connector for making things happen,” she said.
In 2002, she was awarded the Edmund S. Muskie Access to Justice Award for her “leadership in using personal philanthropy to encourage and sustain justice initiatives in Maine.”
The Muskie Fund for Legal Services noted that Corson has provided funding “that has served as a catalyst for innovative legal service projects addressing the needs of the rural poor, the elderly, members of Maine’s immigrant community, and low-income children.”
Corson has so many charitable causes that she keeps a book listing them, from the Maine Center for Creativity to the Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project.
They include: the Children’s Museum and Theater of Maine, the Institute of Family-Owned Businesses, Portland Ovations, the Greater Portland Boys and Girls Club, the Maine Chapter of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, Victoria Mansion, A Company of Girls, the Area Agencies on Aging, Youth Alternatives and Breakwater School.
“I feel I’m lucky enough to be able to do this, having the funds and the time,” Corson said in a phone interview. “It helps to get involved and support the people working hard to make the community better.”