Stewart R. Mott, a philanthropist whose gifts to progressive and sometimes offbeat causes were often upstaged by his eccentricities, died Thursday night. He was 70 and had homes in North Salem, N.Y., and Bermuda. He was known for, among other things, cultivating a farm with 460 plant species (17 types of radishes), a chicken coop and a compost pile, atop his Manhattan penthouse,
His death was confirmed Friday by Conrad Martin, executive director of the Stewart R. Mott Charitable Trust. He said Mott had been ill with cancer for some time.
Mott's philanthropy included birth control, abortion reform, sex research, arms control, feminism, civil liberties, governmental reform, gay rights and research on extrasensory perception.
His political giving, often directed against incumbent presidents, was most visible. In 1968, he heavily bankrolled Sen. Eugene McCarthy's challenge to President Lyndon Johnson. Four years later, he was the biggest contributor to Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee.
When Charles Colson, the White House chief counsel to President Richard Nixon, included Mott in the famed “enemies list,” Colson said of him, “nothing but big money for radic-lib candidates.”
Irreverent, good-looking and effusive, Mott seemed tailor-made for the 1960s and '70s, when he attracted his widest attention, not least for his all-too-candid comments about everything from his sex partners (full names spelled out in newsletters) to his father's parental deficiencies (“a zookeeper”) to his blood type (AB-positive).
He once lived on a Chinese junk as a self-described beatnik and kept notes to himself on Turkish cigarette boxes, accumulating thousands. He held folk music festivals to promote peace and love. His garden atop his Manhattan penthouse (which he sold some years ago) was famous; at one point Mott taught a course in city gardening at the New School for Social Research in New York. He once told an interviewer that he lay awake wondering how to grow a better radish.
Mott seemed to relish poking his finger in the eye of General Motors, a company that his father, Charles Stewart Mott, helped shape as an early high executive.
In the '60s, the younger Mott drove a battered red Volkswagen with yellow flower decals when he drove at all. He lambasted GM at its annual meeting for not speaking out against the Vietnam War. He gave money to a neighborhood group opposing a new GM plant because it would involve razing 1,500 homes.