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Dick Scaife's philanthropy made region, country a better place

| Saturday, July 5, 2014, 9:47 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
Dick Scaife took a chance on Station Square, putting up $5 million to launch a project that was little more than a dream with no bank financing and no tenants.
Steven Adams | Tribune-Review
Bessemer Court is the centerpiece of Station Square along the Monongahela River on Pittsburgh's South Side.

Dick Scaife will be long-remembered for his leadership in the world of philanthropy.

He focused on ideas that he believed were good for America while supporting Western Pennsylvania's quality of life through the arts, education, medical research, civic and neighborhood development, conservation, and historic preservation.

Scaife was involved in philanthropy for essentially all of his life — first witnessing his parents' creation of the Sarah Scaife Foundation in 1941 and their participation in many philanthropic efforts in the 1940s and '50s.

In the 1960s, and continuing into the early '80s, he participated in the leadership of the Scaife Family Charitable Trusts that his mother had created. In addition, he chaired his own foundations, the Allegheny Foundation (1953) and the Carthage Foundation (1964).

Eventually, he assumed leadership of the Sarah Scaife Foundation, becoming its chairman in 1973.

All the while, he often gave directly to similar efforts from his personal wealth.

Over the years, Scaife gained valuable insights about giving away money and managing foundations; some of that he learned from early reports of the Sarah Scaife Foundation.

One such report stated that foundations can be pioneers in the work of humanity but must search diligently for intelligent ways to use their money; applications for funds are plentiful, many are tempting, but the assurance of effective execution is rare. Another report cautioned against funding endowments for entire universities, hospitals or churches in the grand manner of past generations, because modern government funding would always dwarf private giving.

He believed private initiative supplied the most stimulative factor in advancing knowledge. While he did not believe in anonymous giving, he also did not believe in naming things after himself or his family.

He learned it was far too easy for foundations to drift from the values that helped create the initial wealth that funded them —traditional American values such as innovation, capitalism, and competitive enterprise. Therefore it was imperative to recruit foundation trustees and staff who shared the same values.

This led to his belief that foundation staffs and boards should be small and focused, and that too much bureaucracy was to be avoided at all costs.

Likewise, he believed it was imperative to understand the people to whom you give money, to the point of having a personal relationship with them because, in effect, what you are doing is investing in that person and their expertise. Therefore, he believed that once you got to know the people you considered supporting, and had confidence in their abilities and interests, it was best to just support them and let them get on with their work with minimal interference.

Finally, he learned that smaller gifts given annually over long periods were more effective than large, high-profile gifts given once.

But these lessons did not provide much guidance on to whom, or what, to give money.

As a fourth-generation Pennsylvanian and a lifelong student of history, Scaife had a deep appreciation for the significant contributions that Western Pennsylvania has had in the development and economic vitality of what he believed to be the most unique and generous country in the world, the United States of America.

Western Pennsylvania was always Dick Scaife's home. And he believed by concentrating a portion of his philanthropic giving to this one region, primarily through the Allegheny Foundation, a long-lasting impact could be achieved toward the greater good of the entire community.

I think that his giving record in Western Pennsylvania speaks for itself.

Dick Scaife also had a great love for the United States of America, its founding principles and American exceptionalism. At an early age he became concerned that America was losing its founding values and that the spread of competing views on how people and societies should be organized (namely Marxism, communism, socialism and, more recently, radical Islamism) were existential threats to the American form of government.

He was concerned about societal trends that limited individual freedom and opportunity, and about the expanding dependence on public subsidy, deteriorating cultural values, and substandard public and higher education.

Therefore, he directed much of his national philanthropy to individuals and institutions that promoted and conducted public policy research and education on America's founding and traditional American values — limited but effective government acting within its given powers (such as providing for the common defense, conducting national security and foreign policy, and securing the rights of individuals), separation of powers, individual rights including property rights and economic liberty, personal responsibility, laissez-faire policies, and America's role in the world (including a traditional understanding of vital U.S. interests and national security).

He believed that a return to these values in a modern context was the solution to many of the United States' challenges, and his philanthropy reflected this belief.

Again, I think that the achievements of Dick Scaife's giving at the national level speak for themselves and that the results have done much to preserve the American way of life.

I have every confidence the staff and trustees of his foundations will continue his philanthropy in ways consistent with and honoring Dick Scaife's values and beliefs.

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