Compton Foundation’s history began with the far-sighted and compassionate vision of Dorothy and Randolph Compton, a vision which they later passed on to their children.
Shortly after the United States entered World War II, all four of the Compton children chose to serve their country. Dan commanded a Navy PT Boat in the Pacific. Jim, a Marine Lieutenant, led his platoon in the liberation of Iwo Jima. Ann served in a Navy hospital as a social worker with the American Red Cross. John Parker, the youngest, left Princeton University after his freshman year to train with the 10th Mountain Division on skis, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. He fought with the 10th in the Italian Alps. Near the small village of Iola in the mountains northwest of Florence, a sniper’s bullet ended his promising young life.
The untimely death of John Parker, the tragic loss of so many young people, and the impact of this devastating war on the whole world moved Dorothy and Randolph to establish a charitable trust in 1946. The primary mission they set for the trust was to build the foundations for peace and to help prevent another world war.
Shortly after the end of World War II, Dorothy and Randolph visited the village of Iola and made friends with the village priest and local residents. Later they helped make possible the rebuilding of their bombed-out church. The parish installed a plaque in John Parker’s memory at the entrance to the church which commemorates his death and the bond formed between his parents and the people of Iola.
Another tragic loss occurred when the Compton’s eldest son, Dan, died of polio in 1955, only months before the Salk vaccine secured FDA approval.
Dorothy and Randolph believed that world peace would only be possible if the conditions that brought about war could be eliminated. As a result they focused their funding on the problems of the rapid growth of the human population, the depletion of natural resources due to population growth and increasing consumption levels, the accompanying degradation of the environment, and the chaotic status of human rights in much of the world.
Emphasis of the Compton Trust included training for exceptional young scholars within the primary fields of interest of the Trust, educational opportunities for minority students and students from developing countries, and assuring public access to information.
Randolph believed strongly in the importance of combining research and activism to address world problems. He felt that scholarship was needed to define problems and to provide effective solutions. Equally important was using the knowledge and information obtained to get the facts before the public, encourage debate, and press for political change to correct the conditions which threaten human survival. A primary interest of Dorothy’s was taking leadership in providing equal educational opportunities for minorities. Dorothy and Randolph both felt that the quality of individual leadership determined the potential for success in any venture.
In order to ensure the vitality and integrity of the Trust, Dorothy and Randolph sought the advice and assistance of other individuals they respected with ideas worthy of pursuit. The family has always looked to non-family Board members to enrich the Foundation and the quality of its grants with their talents and perspectives.
Over time the Trust’s mission expanded to include support for welfare, social justice, and the arts in the communities where family Board members live. The Trust was converted to a Foundation in 1973. In 1987, the Foundation expanded its international focus as a result of a gift of stock from the Danforth Foundation given for this purpose.
In 1989 the Foundation relocated its offices from New York City, where it was founded, to Northern California, where Jim Compton and Ann Compton Stephens lived. Since then several of Dorothy and Randolph’s grandchildren have served or serve on the Board, and the third generation and their spouses have taken an increased interest in the Foundation and have assumed additional responsibilities.
Dorothy and Randolph’s vision is still alive today and still very much a part of the Foundation’s legacy. Times have changed and the Foundation recognizes new approaches and new problems, but it continues to honor the Founders’ ideas and values and the world challenges they met with such passion.