Gilbert Mead, Major Arts Philanthropist, Dies at 76

Obituaries   Gilbert Mead, Major Arts Philanthropist, Dies at 76 Gilbert Mead, who used his millions as an heir to a paper manufacturing concern to become a major arts donor in the Washington, D.C., area, died May 29 at the Washington Home hospice after suffering a stroke. He had non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He was 76.
Jaylee and Gilbert Mead
Jaylee and Gilbert Mead

There was scarcely a D.C. theatre that didn't owe a great debt to the largesse of Mr. Mead, who generally kept a low profile. He contributed large sums to the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage, the Studio Theatre (which named an auditorium after the family name), Arlington's Signature Theatre and the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Co. They also funded the Mead Theatre Lab at the Flashpoint, an arts space in Northwest Washington that serves groups without a home theatre.

He were particularly generous to Arena Stage. In 2006, he pledging $35 million — $10 million outright and the rest in matching grants — as part of the theatre's $120 million building and renovation campaign. When completed in 2010, the overall facility will be known as Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.

Arena executive director Stephen Richard said in a statement, "Nothing saddens [Arena artistic director] Molly Smith and I more than knowing that Gil won't be sitting next to us for the grand opening of the building his and Jaylee's leadership and generosity made possible. At the same time we take comfort in knowing his legacy will live on through Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater and with so many other organizations in Washington. From his rousing piano playing to his beautiful singing voice, from his quiet support to his strategic acumen, his gifts were legion."

The money came from the midwest. Gilbert Dunbar Mead was born May 31, 1930, in Madison, WI, and was raised in Wisconsin Rapids. His paternal grandfather, George Mead, co-founded in 1894 the company that became Consolidated Papers. Gilbert Mead was not involved in daily operations, but sat on the board for many years. The company was sold in recent years to the Finnish forest products company Stora Enso for about $4 billion.

He was educated at the private Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT, was a 1952 physics graduate of Yale University and received a doctorate in physics from the University of California at Berkeley in 1962. After graduating, he joined the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt as a researcher in theoretical space physics. It was at Goddard where he became interested in theatre, oddly enough. He became involved in a workplace theatrical group called MAD, an acronym for Music and Drama, serving as musical director and conducted the orchestra. The activities caused he to buy subscriptions to the major theatre in the Washington area, and his artistic education began.

His marriage to Marilyn Kroll Mead ended in divorce. A son from that marriage, Robert Mead, died in 2002. He is survived by his second wife, Jaylee, whom he married in 1968, and three children from his first marriage, Betsy Mead of Rockville, Diana Mead-Siohan of Palm Coast, Fla., and Stanton W. Mead II of Middletown.