Philanthropist who gave millions to MDI groups dies

Kathryn W. Davis, 105, is supported by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud on one side and James Boyer, chairman of the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory Board of Trustees, on the other during a building dedication ceremony at the lab on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012.
Kathryn W. Davis, 105, is supported by U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud on one side and James Boyer, chairman of the Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory Board of Trustees, on the other during a building dedication ceremony at the lab on Friday, Aug. 10, 2012. Buy Photo
Posted April 23, 2013, at 6:30 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — A seasonal Mount Desert Island resident who gave millions of dollars to local institutions has passed away, according to officials.

Kathryn Wasserman Davis was 106 years old when she died Tuesday at her home in Florida, according to reports.

Davis gave College of the Atlantic a $2.5 million challenge grant for a new residential village on its campus in 2006 and in 2007 she gave $1 million to Mount Desert Island Biological Laboratory, the largest private gift ever for the marine research lab. Davis reportedly has made financial donations to more than a dozen other MDI nonprofit organizations.

MDI Bio Lab’s new 10,000-square-foot, $4.8 million research facility, known formally as the Kathryn W. Davis Center for Regenerative Biology and Medicine, was ceremonially dedicated last summer with Davis in attendance.

Kevin Strange, director of the lab, said Tuesday in a prepared statement that Davis’ generosity and enthusiasm made it possible for the lab to expand its research into the causes of healing and aging.

“We will miss her intelligence, wit and enormous zeal for life,” Strange said. “Kayaking on Frenchman Bay with Kathryn when she was a mere 102 years old is something I will

always remember.”

In addition to donating money to COA’s Davis Residence Village, which was completed in 2008, Davis also helped establish the college’s Davis Center of International and Regional Studies in 1999 and has given money to COA students as part of her 100 Projects for Peace program.

Darron Collins, president of COA, said Tuesday in a prepared statement that Davis forever will be considered a “cornerstone” of the college.

“Her life is in so many diverse ways an inspiration for humanity and we will miss her mind, her smile and her sense of adventure dearly,” Collins said.

Davis and her late husband, Shelby Cullom Davis, were supporters of The Heritage Foundation, where he served as the board’s chairman from 1985 to 1992 and she was an honorary trustee, according to the foundation. The foundation’s Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, established in 1997, is co-publisher with the Wall Street Journal of the annual Index of Economic Freedom.

“Kathryn was an adventurer and a scholar and The Heritage Foundation owes a lot to her and her late husband for our success in foreign and defense studies,” Heritage Founder Edwin J. Feulner said Tuesday in a prepared statement. “We couldn’t do our job without them.”

According to a Bloomberg story about Davis’ death, the philanthropist is credited with dipping into her family’s fortune in 1947 to provide her husband with funds that made him one of the most successful investors in the country. The article indicates that, by the time he died in 1994, Shelby Davis had turned his wife’s initial investment of $50,000 or $100,000 (accounts differ) into an $800 million fortune. Shelby Davis was on the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans from 1987 until he died, Bloomberg reports.

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