Paul Mellon portraitPaul Mellon, portrait by William Franklin DraperAilson Mellon Bruce portraitAilsa Mellon Bruce, portrait by Oswald Birley

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation was established by Ailsa Mellon Bruce and Paul Mellon, the children of Andrew W. Mellon, in 1969, by consolidating the foundations that they had each established more than two decades earlier.

Ailsa Mellon Bruce

Ailsa Mellon Bruce, co-founder of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, was a philanthropist and patron of the arts.  In 1940, she established the Avalon Foundation, which made grants to colleges and universities, medical schools and hospitals, youth programs and community services, churches, environmental projects, and an array of cultural and arts organizations.  From its creation through the end of 1968, Avalon awarded more than $67 million, with a significant portion supporting organizations in the New York area, including a grant for the creation of the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.  In addition to the work of Avalon, Mrs. Bruce made major contributions to the Hampton National Historic Site in Maryland and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.  Mrs. Bruce was born in Pittsburgh, and attended Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut.  She served as her father's official hostess when he was Secretary of the Treasury (1921-32) and ambassador to the Court of St. James.  Mrs. Bruce died on August 25, 1969, shortly after the Foundation was formed.  Ailsa Mellon Bruce's estate contributed additional funds to the Foundation for years to come.  Her interests in education, humanities, and the arts remain a principal focus of the Foundation's work.

View "Ailsa Mellon Bruce:  Collector and Patron of the National Gallery," a talk given by Mary Morton, Curator of French Paintings at the National Gallery of Art, March 29, 2014, at the Legion of Honor, San Francisco

Paul Mellon

Paul Mellon had a deep and abiding interest in education, the humanities, and the arts.  Following the co-founding of The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, with his sister, Ailsa Mellon Bruce, Mr. Mellon's service as a trustee helped shape the character and significance of the Foundation as it exists today.  The broad directions he encouraged at the outset, in the arts and humanities and higher education, continue today as core Foundation interests.  At the same time, Mr. Mellon and his fellow trustees also remained open to the development of new areas of interest.  Paul Mellon insisted on thoughtful and rigorous evaluation of potential grants and on meeting the highest standards of quality in all that the Foundation did.  He believed that philanthropists could strengthen the effect of their gifts by selecting areas of emphasis with care, identifying important trends and opportunities where they might make a distinctive contribution, understanding and articulating the long-term goals, and then relying on the ablest people and institutions to carry out the programs in their own best way.  The kind of philanthropy that Paul Mellon promoted sets high expectations and assumes a high degree of trust and collaboration between a foundation and its grantees.

The spirit of collegiality, the capacity to listen and engage, the desire to enable excellent institutions and creative people to do their best work and contribute to a larger good—these traits characterized Paul Mellon personally, and they represent values he cared about deeply in a Foundation that he would scarcely have claimed as "his."  It would have been easy for him, as co-founder, to dominate the Foundation's Board of Trustees.  But that was not his way.  Instead, with quiet courtesy, unflagging attentiveness, and a delightfully irreverent sense of humor, he lent his voice and intelligence to the deliberations of the Board as a whole, always respectful of the views of each individual.

As a former president of the Foundation, Jack Sawyer, once wrote, "Paul Mellon has brought to all we have done and all we thought about doing a commitment to enlightened philanthropy that has enabled the Foundation to transcend any play of special interests or diversion to narrower goals."

Adapted from a description of Paul Mellon's role as trustee of the Foundation, following his passing on February 1, 1999, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Annual Report, 1998.