Elizabeth Noyce, a philanthropist who bestowed millions of dollars on the state’s universities, hospitals and museums, died early Wednesday at her Bremen home.
Noyce’s unexpected death shocked many officials whose institutions had benefited from her wealth. They were left to reflect on the largesse of the 65-year-old woman who was as well known for her down-to-earth demeanor as her generosity.
“Everybody in Maine lost a good friend last night,” Gov. Angus King said Wednesday. “I feel awful.”
Maine Maritime Academy President Leonard Tyler said he and his wife stayed at Noyce’s house last Friday after the three attended a celebration marking the 50th anniversary of the school’s alumni association. Tyler said Noyce appeared to be in great health but that she suffered from asthma.
Noyce also suffered from emphysema, her Portland attorney and friend, Owen Wells, said. She had been working at her desk at the time of her death.
Noyce gave more than $4 million to MMA, including more than $1 million for scholarships, and she served on its board of trustees for 13 years.
“She was known for her philanthropy, but we knew her here for her friendship and her kindness,” Tyler said. “We’re heartsick here.”
“Words will not convey the impact of Betty Noyce’s sudden death on the state of Maine,” said University of Maine System Chancellor Terrence MacTaggart.
One of her gifts — a $5 million contribution to the UM System statewide capital campaign in 1989 — is the largest gift in the history of Maine public higher education.
“Her vision and her generosity have made an enormous difference in the life of her adopted state,” MacTaggart said.
Noyce, a native of Saugus, Mass., lived on her 35-acre oceanfront estate in Bremen for about 20 years. She moved to Maine from California after her 1975 divorce from Robert Noyce, the founder of Intel Corp. and Fairchild Semiconductor and the co-inventor of the integrated circuit. Noyce acquired much of her wealth, which was estimated in the $100 million range in 1991, from the divorce. Robert Noyce died in 1990. The couple had four children.
Noyce is best known for her recent efforts to revitalize downtown Portland, where she bought the troubled Nissen Bakery and several office buildings. She started the Portland-based Maine Bank & Trust Co. five years ago to help businesses survive a banking crisis.
Despite her generosity, Noyce shied away from publicity and did not allow her name to be affixed to anything she’d financed.
“Betty wasn’t born in Maine but she certainly posessed many of the best traits of Maine people — generosity, loyalty, concern for others, citizenship, humility and a love of the land and the sea,” said University of Maine President Frederick Hutchinson.
Noyce’s gifts to the Orono campus included $1 million for the Maine Center for the Arts and $2.5 million for faculty endowments.
Noyce’s generosity also spread to the state’s hospitals. She recently donated $3 million to Portland’s Maine Medical Center for a new children’s hospital that will be named after former first lady Barbara Bush.
“She was a modest, self-effacing woman and impressed all who knew her with her generosity and commitment to community pride and betterment,” Bush said.
In 1986, Noyce donated $250,000 to Eastern Maine Medical Center for a new heart unit. At the time, that was the largest donation the Bangor hospital had received from an individual.
“We will always benefit through her generosity,” said Michael Crowley, Eastern Maine Healthcare’s director of development.
She recently surprised the Portland Museum of Art by donating a painting by Impressionist artist Mary Cassatt.
“Through the years, her gifts to the people of Maine have made her a very special person, and her death will truly mean the end of an extraordinary spirit dedicated to the common good,” said Sen. William Cohen. “She will be long remembered as Maine’s guardian angel who bettered the lives of all those she touched.”
A memorial service will be held 2 p.m. Monday at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.