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Our History

Mrs. May was in her element surrounded by nature. Pristine forests, sparkling rivers, and rare bird species. These were her passions and why she created Colcom Foundation in 1996 to perpetuate her environmental philanthropy initiated in 1951. She wanted future generations of Americans to be able to enjoy the same natural treasures.

Cordelia May

Snuck off for three days of birding near Lake Okeechobee. It was very exciting, over 83 species, including Everglades Kite, Bald Eagle and a pair of Snow Geese! You may have the best job in the world, but for 3 days, my life was better than yours!

Cordelia S. May
Letter from Cordelia May to Elvis Stahr Jr., head of the Audubon Society (1973)

Born into the Mellon-Scaife family in 1928, Mrs. May grew up in scenic Ligonier, Pennsylvania, surrounded by lush countryside and animals of all kinds. Her family’s philanthropic activities quickly drew her interest and she became a champion of women’s rights and environmental sustainability, donating hundreds of millions of dollars to women’s causes, land conservation, watershed protection, environmental education, and population causes. Yet her unassuming nature lead Mrs. May to decline credit for her philanthropy, contending that she was simply doing what any of us would do given the means.

As Mrs. May learned more about the impact population growth was having on the environment, she became more dedicated to educating the public. She recognized that incremental growth is imperceptible from one day to the next, and that the cumulative force of this growth would be overwhelming. Consequently, the impact of a burgeoning population on ecological balance would remain her lifelong passion.

To her, the population environment connection was common sense. Today’s headlines reflect the effects of imbalances between people and their surroundings. Water shortages, air pollution, groundwater contamination, beach closings, collapsed fisheries, competition over energy supplies, congestion, urban sprawl, biodiversity losses, and malnutrition are among the consequences of population growth. Yet, our growth-driven culture seldom views these imbalances as a result of overpopulation. Mrs. May’s humanitarian perspective brought the approaching drama into focus decades before it reached public discourse.

Human activity is putting such a strain on the natural functions of Earth that the ability of the planet’s ecosystems to sustain future generations can no longer be taken for granted.

Cordelia S. May

Today, Colcom Foundation carries on Mrs. May’s philanthropic vision, supporting groups across America dedicated to making sure future generations are able to relish the splendor of America’s environmental treasures and enjoy a desirable quality of life. After all, environmental sustainability isn’t just for the birds.