Flamboyant Philanthropist And GM Heir Stewart Mott
Saturday, June 14, 2008
Stewart R. Mott, 70, a General Motors heir and self-described "avant-garde philanthropist" who used his family's fortune to underwrite progressive social causes and liberal political campaigns, died June 12 at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y. He had cancer.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Mr. Mott was one of the country's most visible and controversial activists.
He invested heavily in causes including population control, abortion reform and arms reduction. He was also a chief financial backer of two antiwar presidential candidates, Sen. Eugene McCarthy (D) in 1968 and Sen. George McGovern (D) in 1972.
In a statement yesterday, consumer advocate Ralph Nader called Mr. Mott "about the most versatile, imaginative philanthropist of his time" and "a pioneer in many fields well before the large foundations."
Tall, irreverent and fond of Turkish cigarettes, Mr. Mott attracted attention with his flamboyance. At one soiree in Washington in 1983, guests rode an elephant on the sidewalk while wearing gold sashes announcing in roughly translated French, "Shame on those who think badly of this."
He once lived on a Chinese junk on the Hudson River, but he exchanged it for a Manhattan penthouse, where he cultivated a garden with hundreds of vegetable varieties. Neighbors were not pleased when his agricultural interest led him to construct a compost pile and chicken coop.
Mr. Mott was described in profiles as an easygoing maverick with little regard for discretion in discussing his political interests, finances or romantic conquests.
But beneath the surface eccentricity was a determination to address what Mr. Mott called "the two problems confronting planet earth that dwarf and aggravate all conventional problems, namely the threat of nuclear war and the continuing worldwide population explosion."
Alarmed by the course of the Vietnam War, he criticized the General Motors board for failing to speak out. To drive home the point -- literally -- he owned a Volkswagen.
His $400,000 contribution to McGovern won Mr. Mott inclusion on the Nixon White House's enemies list with the notation, "Nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates."
Mr. Mott replied that the list was "an honor roll of decent Americans. I'd be insulted if I weren't on it, being the largest donor to McGovern and a regular supporter of liberal causes."
With some irony, he added that his tax lawyers at the time were partners at Nixon and Attorney General John Mitchell's old firm.