Cordelia Scaife May

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Cordelia Scaife May (September 24, 1928–January 26, 2005) — known as "Cordy" to family and friends — was a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-area political donor and philanthropist and one of the wealthiest women in the United States. In the year of her death, she was recognized as the single most generous person in the country. May was occasionally labeled as reclusive.[1]


May was the only daughter of Alan Magee Scaife and Sarah Cordelia Mellon Scaife, daughter of Richard B. Mellon and niece of Andrew W. Mellon. She was raised with her brother Richard Mellon Scaife at the family estate in Ligonier and prepared at Foxcroft School.

She attended Carnegie Institute of Technology, now known as Carnegie Mellon University, and the University of Pittsburgh briefly, but left school to marry longtime family friend Herbert A. May, Jr. on June 30, 1949. The couple divorced after scarcely a year, and she resumed a childhood friendship with Allegheny County District Attorney, Robert Duggan, which blossomed into a romantic relationship. They secretly wed on August 29, 1973 amidst a federal investigation by then-United States Attorney Dick Thornburgh into allegations of racketeering and corruption on Duggan's part. On March 5, 1974, Duggan was found dead of shotgun wounds hours before being indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of income tax evasion. The death was ruled either an accident or suicide. May maintained that he was murdered, although she never said by whom. Her brother's disapproval of their relationship led to a longtime estrangement between the siblings.[citation needed]

When her mother died in 1965, May inherited a sizable portion of the Mellon fortune. She would distribute tens of millions of dollars to charity through the Laurel Foundation (established 1951), Colcom Foundation (established 1996), and directly, most on the condition her name not be revealed. In 2005, the year of her death, May was recognized as the single most generous person in the United States. Her charitable donations for the year were almost one-tenth of the $4.3 billion donated by the nation’s leading philanthropists.[2]

May died of pancreatic cancer at her home, Cold Comfort Farm, in Ligonier Township, Pennsylvania at age 76, and was cremated.


May made charitable donations to land conservation, watershed protection, environmental education, and population causes.[3][4]

May became aware of overpopulation issues in childhood, when she was introduced to the work of Margaret Sanger by her grandmother.[5] By 1952 she began to actively address national population issues. There is a bust of Margaret Sanger in the National Portrait Gallery which was a gift from May.[6][7]

Since her death, it has been suggested[by whom?] that May provided funding for some groups sometimes characterized as hate groups in the United States.[8][9] One was the Council of Conservative Citizens, which reportedly claims that African-Americans are a "retrograde species of humanity".[10]

She also funded the republication and distribution of the racist novel The Camp of the Saints in 1983.[11]


  1. ^ "Friends gather to honor memory of Cordelia May", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 11, 2005.
  2. ^ "Cordelia May tops givers list", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 20, 2006.
  3. ^ Pro, Johnna A. and Pitz, Marylynne, "Obituary: Cordelia Scaife May"], Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 27, 2005
  4. ^ Sullivan, Patricia, "Cordelia May, 76; Mellon Heir Avoided Spotlight"], Washington Post, January 28, 2005.
  5. ^ Vondas, Jerry, "Philanthropist Cordelia Scaife May dies at 76"], Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 27, 2005.
  6. ^ "PORTRAIT SEARCH: CAP Search Results / ObjectID is 46729". National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 2016-06-30. 
  7. ^ Lauren Hodges Twitter Instagram (2015-08-27). "National Portrait Gallery Won't Remove Bust Of Planned Parenthood Founder : The Two-Way". NPR. Retrieved 2016-06-30. 
  8. ^ Blogsite, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), July 14, 2009; accessed July 6, 2014.
  9. ^ Profile,; accessed July 6, 2014.
  10. ^ Council of Conservative Citizens profile, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC); accessed July 6, 2014.
  11. ^ Blumenthal, Paul; Rieger, J. M. (2017-03-04). "This Stunningly Racist French Novel Is How Steve Bannon Explains The World". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 2017-03-05.