On July 4, 1826, two of America’s founding fathers – former Presidents Thomas Jefferson and John Adams – passed away. Their myriad contributions to the character and direction of this country have long survived them.
The same will surely be true of a man who passed away this Fourth of July, a founding father in his own right: Richard M. Scaife. Few have done more than Dick Scaife to give life to and build the modern American conservative movement which has, in turn, played an outsized role in shaping our nation over the past fifty years.
Mr. Scaife was an indefatigable warrior in what he called the Battle of Ideas. His greatest delight was the contribution he made to that fight through journalism. For decades, he published newspapers in his native Western Pennsylvania, starting with the Greensburg Tribune Review. Today, his holdings include seven daily papers and twenty-three weeklies. Under his leadership, they have won local, national, and international recognition for reporting and photography.
Dick will probably be best remembered, however, for the role he played through his extraordinarily generous philanthropy. As with many of his fellow Mellon and Scaife family members, he applied his personal fortune to the support of an array of charitable activities. Many of these involved preservation and promotion of the arts in his own and other communities. He once estimated that he had given away $600 million between 1962 and 1999, a staggering sum but only a fraction of a total that would include gifts made in the years that followed up to his death earlier today.
What most distinguished Richard Scaife’s philanthropy was the extraordinary role it played in incubating and sustaining institutions that have enabled generations of conservatives to play prominent roles in the Battle of Ideas. In his memoir, A Richly Conservative Life, Mr. Scaife wrote: “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.”
Those policy research organizations – including the Heritage Foundation, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the American Enterprise Institute, and my own Center for Security Policy – would almost certainly not have come into being, let alone made the sort of contribution they have to public policy, had it not been for the visionary and sustained support of Scaife-sponsored foundations.
Richard Scaife’s philanthropy was characterized by one other remarkable attribute: his assiduously self-effacing quality. Where other donors insist on public recognition and praise, it suited Dick to play the role of unacknowledged patron. He was always about the cause, not his own glorification.
Over the past twenty-six years, I had the privilege of interacting with Dick Scaife on a number of occasions. There was nothing he enjoyed more than “blue-sky” conversations, in which the exchange of ideas and the development of initiatives to operationalize them would be discussed. He and his dedicated foundation staff would then set about helping to actualize such plans. The rest, as they say, is history.
Invariably, one came away from such encounters impressed by the man’s love of and commitment to our country. How fitting that Dick Scaife’s extraordinary and momentous life came to an end on the anniversary of the day it was born, in the company of two other truly great Americans. I have the feeling he wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.