Amount donated: In excess of $612m according to Business Week and $380m according to Forbes
Philanthropic Causes: Human rights, land preservation, education, art and archeology
Region of philanthropic focus: The US
Ranking: Number 42 on Forbes Top Givers in 2014
Net Worth: An estimated $1bn according to Glass Pockets
Source of wealth: Inheritance/marriage
Shelby White has become well known for her philanthropic efforts, mainly in the arts, archeology and education. Together with her late husband, Leon Levy, she’s donated in excess of $380m to worthy causes.
White herself, to public knowledge, hasn’t made a fortune of her own, but rather helped her late husband with his philanthropic ventures and later, after his passing, continued on her own. Levy made his fortune through investment – being the co-founder of Oppenheimer mutual funds and later Odyssey Partners. At his death in 2003 Oppenheimer mutual funds managed more than $120bn.
Far from being a housewife, White received her B.A. from Mount Holyoke College and an M.A. from Columbia University and has had a satisfying career as a financial journalist and author, as well as serving as a director for Alliance Capital Money Market Funds. She has lectured too, teaching seminar courses on philanthropy at New York University and museum studies at City College of New York.
In addition to this White is Chairman of the American Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Shelby White and Leon Levy Program for Archaeological Publications at Harvard University, both which she and Levy have donated substantial funds to. She also serves on the boards of The Institute for Advanced Study, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New York Botanical Garden, The Writers Room, New York University and Bard Graduate Center.
White is the daughter of immigrants and was raised in Brooklyn, where she has centered some of her philanthropic efforts, contributing to the Public Library, the Historical Society, the Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Museum.
After her husband’s death, White set up the Leon Levy Foundation, which was reported to have assets of over $460m at the end of 2013. Through this foundation White donated $200m to found the Institute of the Study for the Ancient World (ISAW) at New York University.
White’s interest in ancient art started when she had a job working for Encyclopedia Britannica and did a film on ancient Greek art. Levy shared her love for ancient art, which led to them together donating to many causes supporting both ancient art and archeology, including donating $20m to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the construction of the Leon Levy and Shelby White Court, which is a gallery hosting the largest selection of Hellenistic and Roman artwork ever exhibited at the museum. The gallery includes some pieces from White’s private collection – both she and her late husband were avid art collectors.
Every year White comes out to dig in Israel with the American Friends of the Israel Antiquities Authority, which she is chairman of. They found the ancient Canaanite city of Ashkelon.
Other noteworthy contributions by White and Levy include the Shelby White and Leon Levy Fellowship Program at the Institute of Fine Arts; establishing the New Initiative Program at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton; and creating the Leon Levy Biogenetics Center at Rockefeller University.
White has one daughter, Tracy White, together with Levy, as well as several grandchildren. She has noted that she enjoys teaching her grandchildren about birds, something she’s passionate about herself and a cause she’s contributed to through land preservation and various initiatives trying to help birdlife.
Forbes; The 50 Biggest Givers:
The Leon Levy Foundation:
L.A. Times; Leon Levy, 77; OppenheimerFunds Founder, Art Collector and Benefactor:
Inside Philanthropy; Crouching Tiger, Hidden Millions: Shelby White and the Leon Levy Foundation:
Wikipedia; Leon Levy:
PR Newswire; Warren Buffett Tops BusinessWeek’s Annual Ranking of ‘The 50 Most Generous Philanthropists’:
Forbes; Top Givers: