Richard Scaife, conservative champion, newsman & philanthropist, dies
Tribune-Review owner and philanthropist Richard Mellon Scaife, whose vision and funding reinvigorated conservative politics in America, died Friday, July 4, in his home.
His death early Friday, a day after his 82nd birthday, coincided with Independence Day — fittingly auspicious for a man widely recognized for his deep-rooted patriotism.
Many of the nation’s leading conservatives considered him to be the man who sustained the Republican Party after its crushing defeat in the 1964 presidential election and the Watergate scandal in 1972.
His support for and promotion of a conservative agenda led to Ronald Reagan’s election as president in 1980 and the nation’s turn toward the principles those two men shared.
He and Reagan remained friends and admirers until the latter’s death in 2004.
Politics, however, was just one aspect of his many-faceted life.
“Dick Scaife was the epitome of a libertarian,” said attorney H. Yale Gutnick, who represented his close friend for more than three decades. “He resented government intrusion into our lives while vigorously defending free speech, freedom of the press, the separation of church and state, a woman’s right to choose, and other individual liberties.
“The liberty to give was at the top of his priority list, and he gave to his community in abundance.”
The arts, historic preservation, universities, and community programs both large and small, in Pittsburgh and nationally, were among the many endeavors benefiting from his generosity.
In a June 3 letter to the publisher, U.S. House Speaker John Boehner touched on Scaife’s other roles in America’s life.
The Ohio Republican called Scaife “ever the good newspaperman” and a “patriot who can truly claim to have spent his life giving … immeasurable service (to) our country.”
In the opening to his autobiography, A Richly Conservative Life, Scaife himself gave an explanation.
“A man is lucky to be born into wealth,” he wrote. “… An inheritance comes to the person but also to his community and country. It can do powerful good” — and he always felt best “being able to put dollars to work in the battle of ideas.”
Proud of newspapers
He was particularly proud of his legacy as a newspaper publisher.
In a May 18 column revealing he had untreatable cancer, he described a lifelong love of newspapers, calling them “the strong guardians of our lives.”
“The work of my newspapers gives me immense pride,” he wrote. “… That is why, several years ago, I took steps to ensure that my newspapers outlive me. I believe they are essential to our communities, and my most valuable legacy.”
He established a trust fund to operate Trib Total Media’s seven daily newspapers and 23 weeklies.
He fell in love with newspapers as a boy, reading cover-to-cover the editions his parents, Alan and Sarah Scaife, brought home from trips around the country and abroad. His interest and reading intensified after a fall from his horse, “Newsgirl,” severely injured him at age 9 and kept him bedridden for months.
In 1942, at age 10, he bought a subscription to the Philadelphia Inquirer so he could follow World War II battles raging around the globe.
Three decades later, in 1970, he bought his first newspaper — the Tribune-Review in Greensburg.
Jerry DeFlitch, hired as a Trib reporter in 1976, remembers Scaife’s enthusiasm in the Greensburg newsroom.
“You only had to see him once, when he arrived in the morning, to realize how much being there was among his greatest joys,” said DeFlitch, now news copy chief in Pittsburgh.
“He flashed a broad grin or a big smile and offered a warm, upbeat hello to everyone as he walked through the departments to his office … he was absolutely thrilled to be there and loved the newsroom environment.”
In 1992 Scaife founded the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after the Scripps-Howard chain rejected his bid to buy the strike-bound Pittsburgh Press. The Post-Gazette bought the Press and killed it.
He also bought daily newspapers in Tarentum, Connellsville, Kittanning, Monessen and McKeesport, as well as the Gateway and Laurel Group weeklies.
“Ideas have meaning,” he said during a 2002 interview about the decision to create a second newspaper in Pittsburgh. “I’m trying to give people a choice with ideas and what’s best for this country.”
His critics and competitors said it couldn’t be done.
But he defied the trend of metropolitan newspapers closing or consolidating, and his Pittsburgh edition steadily grew.
Today, the Tribune-Review has a combined circulation of more than 115,000 daily and 211,000 on Sundays. It outsells its competitor by more than 30,600 home-delivery and newsstand copies on Sundays and nearly 52,000 copies overall, according to industry numbers.
In the past decade, Scaife’s newspapers have won state, national and international awards for investigative reporting, photography, and other coverage of local, national and international news. The company employs 1,200 people in four Western Pennsylvania counties.
He remained involved with his newspapers until the end, interviewing national political figures and critiquing editions with the newspapers’ editor, Frank Craig.
“He loved newspapering more than anyone I’ve known,” Craig said. “No one on the staff took more pride in breaking important stories or winning major awards than he did. Many of his ideas and news tips produced some of our best coverage.
“Despite the deep sadness we feel at his death, all of us believe it’s a privilege to maintain Dick’s vision of producing our newspapers — and he established an excellent vision for us to follow.
“It’s been an incredible honor to work with him,” Craig said.
Scaife also was a partner in Newsmax, a popular Florida-based national website and monthly magazine that recently launched a cable-television channel, and he once owned KQV Radio in Pittsburgh.
‘A need to do something’
Born into the Scaife and Mellon fortunes, he continued his family’s legacy of contributing to a range of causes and charities throughout Western Pennsylvania and nationally.
In his memoir, he said those who hate wealth and wealthy people miss the point: “It is that private wealth flows back to the public good sooner or later, and with better results than if taxed away by that great middleman, the government.
“I think it works out like that because, rich or poor, if you’re just consuming, it’s not a satisfying life,” he wrote.
“I always felt a need to do something, create something, with the blessings that came my way.”
The Scaife Foundations, headquartered at Oxford Centre, Downtown, include the Sarah Scaife, Allegheny, and Carthage foundations. With a combined value of about $330 million, the three entities distributed nearly $17 million in 2012 to a variety of causes, tax filings show.
That sum did not include personal donations.
He once estimated that he donated $600 million between 1962 and 1999 to various causes.
“In no small part because of his support of its educational, cultural and social service agencies, Pittsburgh today is such a wonderful place to live,” said attorney and friend Gutnick.
Scaife typically shunned publicity while contributing hundreds of millions of dollars to libraries, museums, schools, theater companies, food banks, historical societies, neighborhood associations, and other charities and groups.
A dedicated preservationist, he gave the $11 million in seed money that spared the former Pittsburgh and Lake Erie Railroad station from the wrecking ball in the 1970s and transformed it into the South Side’s popular Station Square complex, with a hotel, shops, offices and restaurants.
It was one of the earliest and most successful instances of private funding for a public improvement project in the city, and it remained one of his proudest civic accomplishments.
He worked with Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and other entities to restore historic homes and libraries in the city’s North Side, Wilkinsburg, Braddock, and other neighborhoods and communities.
In 2004, he gave $1 million — one of the three largest individual donations — to Catholic Relief Services to help survivors of a tsunami that swept across several Indian Ocean nations. He explained that he was “shaken by the devastation” seen in news reports.
Other gifts helped to sustain far smaller groups and causes for years — from the Western Pennsylvania Trolley Museum in Washington, another of his many passions, to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank.
After buying the Daily News in McKeesport, he restored its art-deco offices, including an outdoor clock and hourly chimes that he had learned were a treasured memory of longtime residents. He also put money into community improvement projects there.
He donated generously over the years to the University of Pittsburgh and numerous other colleges and universities, as his parents had, and helped to establish the law school at Pepperdine University in California, known for the respected conservative legal experts on its faculty.
Confounding his critics
While his newspapers often amplified his beliefs in a free-market economy, a strong national defense and individual liberty, so did his charitable giving.
He helped to create and supported national think-tanks, foundations and political campaigns.
Among those are the Heritage Foundation, which he served as a trustee, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the American Enterprise Institute — all based in Washington — and the Hoover Institute at Stanford University in California.
“It might be too much praise, but it doesn’t bother me at all to be thought the ‘father’ of right-wing think-tanks — that is, conservatively oriented policy research organizations,” Scaife said in his memoir.
In 1998, he became better known as a leader of a “vast right-wing conspiracy,” in the words of then-first lady Hillary Clinton. She was responding to various investigations of President Bill Clinton, which she said were bankrolled by wealthy conservatives.
In 2008, Hillary Clinton and Dick Scaife stunned political partisans when they met for a lengthy editorial board interview in the Pittsburgh Trib’s office. They got along famously, and he endorsed her in Pennsylvania’s Democratic presidential primary.
He met privately with Bill Clinton a year earlier, in an unrelated encounter at Clinton’s New York offices, and later donated to the Clinton Global Initiative foundation.
After a second meeting, he told friends that he enjoyed the former president and admired his intellect, even if they disagreed on some issues.
Scaife often confounded critics and admirers alike.
In January 1999, John F. Kennedy Jr. interviewed him for Kennedy’s magazine, George. Scaife told Kennedy that he didn’t hate Clinton. “I think the Democrats are right about it,” he said of an independent counsel’s investigation of Clinton, known as the Starr Report. “Four years and $40 million later, we haven’t gotten anything.”
He remained fond of the young Kennedy, who died in a plane crash seven months later.
Despite left-wing condemnations of him as a GOP fund-master, Scaife supported — financially and editorially — numerous Democratic candidates over the years.
Former Pittsburgh Mayor Pete Flaherty, U.S. Rep. John Murtha, U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Pennsylvania Gov. Bob Casey and his son, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey Jr., were among the Democrats he counted as friends.
He angered some right-wingers by backing some liberal causes or criticizing conservative ones.
A 2003 Tribune-Review editorial, for example, opposed the pending invasion of Iraq despite Scaife’s close friendship with then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other Bush administration figures. His was one of the few major newspapers in the country to do so.
In a 2011 column, he opposed congressional conservatives’ efforts to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood, declaring: “On this issue, Republicans and conservatives are dead wrong.”
He enraged many conservatives and Trib readers when he defended Murtha, a Johnstown Democrat and longtime friend who said he believed Marines had committed atrocities in Iraq. Scaife said their friendship, and Murtha’s record of backing a strong national defense, mattered more than upset readers threatening to cancel subscriptions.
After a visit with Scaife in May, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush called him “one of the giants of the conservative movement … a historic figure.”
“Without him, a lot of conservatives wouldn’t be around today,” Bush said.
It was a description repeated frequently by visiting political figures.
In private, however, Scaife often insisted he was more of a libertarian than a strict conservative.
He once told an interviewer: “I am not a politician, although like most Americans I have some political views. Basically I am a private individual who has concerns about his country and who has the resources that give me the privilege and responsibility to do something to help my country if I can.”
‘Sunshine and blue skies’
As much as Scaife loved politics, a greater passion may have been fine art.
He began collecting it in the late 1950s with his mother, Sarah. Together, they donated money and art for the Sarah Scaife Galleries, opened in 1974 as part of the Carnegie Museums of Pittsburgh; one of their first purchases for the gallery was “Water Lillies (Nympheas)” by French impressionist Claude Monet.
In 1981, Scaife commissioned artist Andy Warhol, a Pittsburgh native, to paint a massive portrait of Andrew Carnegie and donated it to the museum.
Over the decades, he donated many works by American artists to the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, the Brandywine River Museum of Art outside Philadelphia, the National Gallery of Art in Washington — founded by the Mellon family — and others.
In 2005, he gave a rare oil canvas, “Osprey and Weakfish,” painted in 1829 by John James Audubon, to the National Gallery — the only Audubon oil in the museum’s collection.
He preferred American art — particularly from the 1850s onward, and especially landscapes — to other genres.
Westmoreland Museum director Judith O’Toole recalls how he briefly hesitated to donate a valuable landscape to the museum because “he thought it wouldn’t fit. He (said) it was painted on a rather gloomy day. … Dick is known for his love of sunshine and blue skies.”
His homes here and in Nantucket, Mass., and Pebble Beach, Calif., have stunning collections on their walls.
He passionately collected other objects, too, from 18th-century English porcelain to turn-of-the-century American railroad memorabilia.
Yet, just as he confounded critics with his political or policy views, he could shake heads with his tastes: The man who thought John O’Hara was America’s best modern author, for example, became a loyal fan of “The Simpsons,” the animated television sitcom.
“In the nearly four decades that I have represented Dick, the public perception of this complex man and his true self were never really in sync,” Gutnick said. “That bothered me, but not Scaife, who didn’t care what others thought of him.
“He simply continued creating the beautiful legacy which will be etched forever in the fabric of our community.”
A childhood with penguins
Scaife was born July 3, 1932, at Magee-Women’s Hospital in Oakland, the second child of industrialist Alan Scaife and Sarah Mellon Scaife, an heir to the Mellon banking and industrial fortune.
“A myth has arisen about me that I had a miserable time growing up. Not true,” Scaife said in his memoir. “I had two wonderful parents who adored me, especially my mother.”
He and his sister, the late Cordelia May, grew up in Shadyside and at Penguin Court, the family estate in Ligonier, Westmoreland County. The 50-room home got its name from 10 penguins that roamed the grounds; his mother bought the birds during a national craze over the exploits of Antarctic explorer Richard Byrd.
Scaife graduated from Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts; decades later, in the 1970s, he gave the school nearly $8 million, a record gift. He attended Yale University, his father’s alma mater, before graduating in 1957 from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in history.
In 1958, he took over Scaife Co., one of the nation’s oldest manufacturing firms, upon the death of his father. Working at the time for Gulf Oil Co., a Mellon family operation, he soon sold the other company.
In the early 1960s, he razed the family home in Ligonier and built a conservatory there, to pursue a passion for horticulture. He built a new home, Vallamont, nearby.
Kevin Guerrier, Penguin Court’s horticulturalist, said Scaife grew thousands of bulbs and seeds year-round in a greenhouse.
“His mother loved flowers and so did he. He had one of his favorites, hyacinths, blooming as early as December,” Guerrier said. Other favorite varieties were snapdragons, salpiglossis, sweet peas, gladiolus, zinnias, red roses, and delphinium.
“When the greenhouse season was done, everything was transferred outside to the cutting garden.”
“He loved Penguin Court,” Guerrier said. “He would drive up to the courtyard, park his car, walk to the top, and look out over the chain of the Laurels.”
In 1956, he married Frances Gilmore, with whom he had two children; they divorced in 1991. He then married Margaret “Ritchie” Battle; they divorced in 2012.
He is survived by a daughter, Jennie K. Scaife of Palm Beach, Fla.; a son, David N. Scaife of Squirrel Hill; a daughter-in-law, Sara Scaife; and two grandchildren, David and Sara.
A private memorial service will be held at a later date.