Mott, Stewart Rawlings

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MOTT, Stewart Rawlings

(b. 4 December 1937 in Flint, Michigan), philanthropist, political activist, and businessman whose avant-garde philanthropic work in the 1960s focused on controversial issues ranging from population control, abortion reform, and sex research, to government reform and arms control.

Mott was the son of the industrialist Charles Stewart Mott and his fourth wife, Ruth Rawlings, a former teacher. He had three older half-siblings, and two sisters. As a child Mott was overweight and lacked coordination; he nearly drowned at age nine after trying to skate on what proved to be thin ice. His relationship with his father, who was sixty-two when Mott was born, was strained, partly because of the elder Mott's work habits and myriad business interests, which kept him away from his family. Mott's parents often traveled, leaving the children in the care of governesses.

Educated at public schools in Flint, Mott spent summers at camp, which he reportedly detested. After running away from one at age eleven, Mott and his father reached a compromise wherein he would divide his time between camp and working at various odd jobs. Between 1951 and 1955 he attended Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts and then enrolled at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as an engineering student. Following his junior year, Mott went on a tour of Europe, fell in love with a woman he met in Greece, and then "disappeared" in Afghanistan. He was "located" after his family used its influence with government agencies.

With a broken engagement and strained family relations, Mott settled in Manhattan and enrolled at Columbia University's General Studies School, eventually earning two B.A. degrees, one in business administration and the other in comparative literature, in 1961. He remained at Columbia pursuing an M.A. degree in Greek drama, but left the school just short of meeting the requirements for the degree. In 1962 Mott returned to Flint and spent one year working as an apprentice at various family holdings. The following year, he taught English at Eastern Michigan University, but soon decided that he was not cut out for the life of an academic.

Once again returning to Flint, Mott intended to join the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, but instead became active with Planned Parenthood. In 1963 he founded a branch of the organization in Flint and, based on that success, was asked to serve as an emissary on a national level. This marked the beginning of his long association with Planned Parenthood and his focus on the subjects of population control, family planning, and reproductive rights. Mott made his first gifts to the charity and over the next four years donated in excess of $1.2 million of his own money.

A conscientious objector to U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, Mott further developed interests in arms control, peace initiatives, and government reform. He asked to join the Mott Foundation as a consultant, with the aim of reorganizing the grantmaker to move away from its local emphasis into broader areas in which he was more interested. When his conservative father declined the proposals, Mott moved back to New York City and eventually established his own charity Spectamur Agendo, which took its name from the family motto "Let us be known by our deeds." He volunteered at the Manhattan office of Planned Parenthood to hone his fund-raising skills. It was a task at which he proved more than successful, raising over $3 million in 1966 alone.

Mott achieved national prominence in 1968 when he ran full-page advertisements in the New York Times and several Michigan newspapers that urged New York governor Nelson A. Rockefeller to run for the presidency as an antiwar candidate. He even established a volunteer organization for the proposed campaign and began raising funds, but Rockefeller seemingly ignored him. When President Lyndon B. Johnson announced his plans not to seek reelection, Mott shifted his support to Senator Eugene McCarthy, donating more than $200,000 to his presidential campaign. Additionally, he made contributions to several other candidates who were running on platforms that advocated an end to the Vietnam conflict.

Continuing his support for reproductive rights, Mott organized the First National Conference on Abortion Laws, which was held in Chicago in 1969. The following year he visited the Soviet Union with the Fund for Peace as an advocate for both family planning and arms control. Mott was less successful funding the Summer Festival for Peace, a series of concerts that failed to attract large crowds. In 1972 he established the political advocacy group People Politics, which was charged with raising funds to reform the Democratic Party by pushing for stronger representation by African Americans, women, and youth.

Although in a 1971 New Yorker interview Mott had said, "I don't especially wish to get married, because that could lead to divorce and alimony and property settlements, and I'd like to keep my assets unencumbered for charity," eight years later the confirmed bachelor married the sculptor Kappy Wells, with whom he had one son. The couple divorced in 1999.

His liberal stances landed Mott on the White House "Enemies List" in the 1970s, which proved somewhat ironic, as his personal financial interests were represented by Milton Rose, a partner in President Richard M. Nixon's New York law firm. In 1974 Mott purchased 122 Maryland Avenue NE, a historic building in Washington, D.C. Although he intended to live in the dwelling and use it as an office, Mott soon discovered that it had far more room than he needed. He began to rent out office space to the Fund for Peace and later to the American Civil Liberties Union. In 1989 he reorganized his own charitable foundations into the Stewart Mott Charitable Trust, and it became headquartered in the building. The trust continues to fund projects in the four major areas that have always been of interest to Mott: peace, arms control, and foreign policy; population issues, international family planning, and reproductive rights; government reform and public policy; and human rights, civil rights, and civil liberties.

For more information on Mott's life, see Who's Who in America, vol. 2 (2001), and Current Biography (1975). For a profile of Mott and his business career, see "Blue Chip off the Old Block," The New Yorker (27 Nov. 1971).

Ted Murphy