Cordelia Scaife May

philanthropist in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States

Cordelia Scaife May (1928-2005), or "Cordy" as she was affectionately called, was a noted philanthropist devoted to causes related to land conservation, environmental sustainability, education, and female empowerment.

The heir to a Mellon banking fortune valued at over $800 million, May championed strategic philanthropy focused on fostering sustainable development and preserving natural resources for other species and future generations.

Though notoriously private, Cordelia Scaife May leveraged her immense inheritance to better society.

Through sustained yet quiet philanthropy, May donated land to preservation groups, established women's shelters, funded the arts, and created an environmental foundation armed with hundreds of millions to combat ecological overshoot.

Her selfless giving and unwavering moral commitment arose from a deep conviction that responsible stewardship could foster sustainable coexistence between humankind and nature.

May's greatest legacy is Colcom Foundation, endowed with over $400 million to address ecological overshoot through initiatives she cared deeply about - sustainable environmentalism and fostering responsible resource use.

May touched many lives through long-term anonymous grants to organizations like the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Allegheny Land Trust, and Pittsburgh's Women's Center & Shelter. She also donated all of her property on Maui to the Nature Conservancy of Hawaii and her land on Kauai to the National Tropical Botanical Garden. The land she owned in Virginia was donated to the Clifton Institute.

When she passed in 2005, May left a lasting legacy, melding vast wealth with a strategic vision to drive meaningful change.

Her enduring impact as a changemaker arose not from craving accolades but from simply funding critical causes in which she profoundly believed—an example of enlightened philanthropy at its finest.

The fruits of May's altruism continue to uplift lives and protect our environment, even though few may know the name of the woman who set such benevolence in motion.