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One of the most generous philanthropists in southeastern Massachusetts, Gratia Houghton Rinehart Montgomery (1927-2005) focused on giving that benefited the sciences. Childhood explorations along the shores of her native Dartmouth led to a love of the sea and a commitment to funding research and education in oceanography.

One of the most generous philanthropists in southeastern Massachusetts, Gratia Houghton Rinehart Montgomery (1927-2005) focused on giving that benefited the sciences. Childhood explorations along the shores of her native Dartmouth led to a love of the sea and a commitment to funding research and education in oceanography.

Born in 1927 in New York City, Gratia was the daughter of Alan G. Rinehart and Gratia Houghton Rinehart. Her father, an editor and producer at Paramount Pictures, nicknamed her “Topsy.” Her grandmother was mystery writer Mary Roberts Rinehart; her great great grandfather was Amory Houghton Sr., founder of Corning Inc. While summering in South Dartmouth at a young age, Gratia explored local beaches and read about the sea. She graduated from the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and eventually settled in South Dartmouth at Round Hill. Gratia acknowledged that she was a child of affluence who was taught to give back, starting with small scale donations to individuals and moving toward increasing generosity to large marine-related institutions.

Gratia was both a friend and generous supporter of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) for nearly four decades. She began by helping dozens of summer student fellows, graduate students and postdoctoral fellows launch their oceanographic careers. She moved on to funding a number of WHOI research and education programs. In 1996, Gratia gave $5 million to WHOI to endow coastal research; the Institution acknowledged her gift by its dedication of the Coastal Research Center in her name. Gratia’s commitment to coastal research, both shore-based and sea-going, made it possible for WHOI to begin construction of a new coastal research vessel and to expand its coastal research activities. In 1997, she sailed on part of the maiden voyage of the Institution’s research vessel Atlantis. In 2000, Gratia gifted WHOI another $5 million to establish the Rinehart Initiative for Access to the Sea. In 2001, her commitment to coastal research was recognized by WHOI when she was awarded the Cecil H. Green Award for outstanding contributions to oceanographic research at the Institution.

Gratia’s enthusiasm and generosity extended to other organizations as well. Her giving to St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford provided for medical equipment and impacted thousands of South Coast lives. Beginning in 1972, her support of the New Bedford Whaling Museum helped to kick start the Museum’s Azorean collection. In the early 2000s, her pledge of $1 million to the Museum helped open up more space for the Museum’s collections. In 2004, she gifted another $1 million to the National Marine Life Center (NMLC) in Buzzards Bay in support of its capital campaign to develop and operate a marine hospital to care for stranded, sick, and injured marine animals and prepare them for release back into the ocean. Gratia supported several other organizations, including the UMass Dartmouth Marine Science Program, the Dartmouth Natural Resources Trust, and the Animal Rescue League.

Ann O’Leary, Emily Bourne Research Fellow

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