Paul Mellon's service as trustee of the Mellon Foundation that he and his sister established over 30 years ago was essential to shaping the character and significance of the Foundation as it exists today. The broad directions he encouraged at the outset, in the arts and humanities, higher education, and conservation, have been sustained as core Foundation interests. At the same time, Mr. Mellon and his fellow trustees remained open to the development of new areas of purpose. Paul Mellon insisted on thoughtful and rigorous evaluation of potential grants and on meeting the highest standards of quality in all that the Foundation did. He believed that philanthropy was rendered most effective by selecting areas of emphasis with care, identifying within them important trends and opportunities where it might make a distinctive contribution, understanding the long-term goals to be sought, and then relying on the ablest people and institutions to carry out the programs in their own best way. The kind of philanthropy that Paul Mellon promoted sets high expectations and assumes, in the collaboration between foundation and grantee, a high level of trust.
The spirit of collegiality, the capacity to listen and engage, the desire to enable excellent institutions and creative people to do their best work and contribute to a larger good: these traits characterized Paul Mellon personally, and they represent values he cared deeply about in a Foundation that he would scarcely have claimed as "his." It would have been easy for him, the founder, to dominate the Board of Trustees. But that was not his way. Instead, with quiet courtesy, unflagging attentiveness, and a delightfully irreverent sense of humor, he lent his voice and intelligence to the deliberations of the Board as a whole, always respectful of the views of each individual.
Adapted from a description of Paul Mellon’s role as trustee of the Foundation, following his passing on February 1, 1999, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Annual Report, 1998.