Cordelia Scaife May

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Cordelia Scaife May (September 24, 1928 – January 26, 2005), known as "Cordy" to her family and friends, was a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-area philanthropist and one of the wealthiest women in the United States.

She 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 the 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, Sarah Scaife, died in 1965, Cordelia Scaife 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.[1]


She made charitable donations to land conservation, watershed protection, environmental education, and population causes.[2][3]

May became aware of population issues [clarification needed] in childhood, when she was introduced to Margaret Sanger by her grandmother.[4] By 1952 she began to actively address national population issues. May was occasionally labeled as reclusive.[5]

Some evidence was brought to light after her death that May provided funding for some groups labeled as hate groups within the United States.[6][7] One such group was the Council of Conservative Citizens, a group which reportedly claims African Americans are a "retrograde species of humanity".[8]


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


  1. ^ "Cordelia May tops givers list", Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, February 20, 2006.
  2. ^ Pro, Johnna A. and Pitz, Marylynne, "Obituary: Cordelia Scaife May"], Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 27, 2005
  3. ^ Sullivan, Patricia, "Cordelia May, 76; Mellon Heir Avoided Spotlight"], Washington Post, January 28, 2005.
  4. ^ Vondas, Jerry, "Philanthropist Cordelia Scaife May dies at 76"], Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, January 27, 2005.
  5. ^ "Friends gather to honor memory of Cordelia May", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, February 11, 2005.
  6. ^ Blogsite, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), July 14, 2009; accessed July 6, 2014.
  7. ^ Profile,; accessed July 6, 2014.
  8. ^ Council of Conservative Citizens profile, Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC); accessed July 6, 2014.