Stewart Mott -- of the "Stewart R. Mott Charitable Trust" -- has died. It's not the shock that Tim Russert's death has been: he was 70 and has had cancer for a while. But it's still incredibly sad. For the 40 years that our country has been wandering in the desert since the assassination of Bobby Kennedy, he was one of the leading prominent philanthropists in progressive politics. Think of George Soros, but with a VW Bug-driving hippie's irreverent style and sensibility.
While we are spending much of this afternoon attending to Tim Russert's death, I hope that we can take some time out to salute someone who contributed so much to keeping the progressive flame burning all these years. These were often lonely years for those of us on the Left. Those relative few who kept our causes financed are an important part of our story.
Here is some background on Stewart Mott.
Mr. Mott’s philanthropy included birth control, abortion reform, sex research, arms control, feminism, civil liberties, governmental reform, gay rights and research on extrasensory perception.
His political giving, often directed against incumbent presidents, was most visible. In 1968, he heavily bankrolled Senator Eugene McCarthy’s challenge to President Lyndon B. Johnson. Four years later, he was the biggest contributor to Senator George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee.
Mr. Mott seemed to relish poking his finger in the eye of General Motors, a company that his father, Charles Stewart Mott, helped shape as an early high executive. In the ’60s, the younger Mr. Mott drove a battered red Volkswagen with yellow flower decals when he drove at all. He lambasted G.M. at its annual meeting for not speaking out against the Vietnam War. He gave money to a neighborhood group opposing a new G.M. plant because it would involve razing 1,500 homes.
The Stewart Mott Charitable Trust is the model of what I hope any scion of a wealthy family might do with his or her inherited wealth. Here is its statement of purpose:
For more than thirty years the Stewart R. Mott Charitable Trust has been an innovative foundation focused on small, strategic grant-making. The Trust takes pride in turning modest investments into lasting systemic change.
The Trust's philanthropic mission was originally focused on changing public policy to address the issues of nuclear armament and overpopulation. Since then, the funding interests have grown to include exposing government corruption and the protection of constitutional rights.
The Trust supports organizations active in the following four areas:
· Peace, Arms Control and Foreign Policy
· Population Issues and Reproductive Rights
· Government Reform and Public Policy
· Civil Rights and Civil Liberties
Recognizing that small grants can build capacity and create fundraising leverage for new organizations, the Stewart R. Mott Charitable Trust provided initial support for many of our organizations, often before larger and more mainstream funding sources were willing to do so. Since the beginning, the Trustees and associates have chosen to continue giving sustaining support to current grantees on an annual, renewal basis.
Being in my late 40s, I'm often struck by how much our culture recognizes the recent, post-web world, while letting slip away the world of not so long ago. (That was the point of my recent diaries complaining about the failure to commemorate the RFK assassination.) Looking at Mott's Wikipedia entry, once finds almost nothing there. If you're a young aspiring historian, you could do much worse with your time today than to do a bit of research on Stewart Mott and build that page into a more fitting tribute.
I had another diary in mind for today, on Boumediene. But the passing of Stewart Mott should not go without comment today -- and I'm afraid, amazingly on the leading progressive political blog, that it might. I'll hope for those older than me and more aware of the more details of his life will share them here. For me: I remember when people would bring Mott's Apple Juice to college parties as their sole soft drink offering -- though he was not involved with the company -- because "Mott" was a name one could trust, due largely to him.
I know this makes me sound like a cranky old man, but: cherish your history. Stewart Mott mattered.
: Profuse thanks to tethys for calling my attention to this. Please, everyone, take a few minutes to watch this New York Times video interview and you'll know much more of the man than I've been able to convey. What a great resource!