Robin Alden of Stonington remembers the phone call she got a year and a half ago that gave her small nonprofit an unexpected boost. The executive director of the Penobscot East Resource Center didn’t recognize the voice, but she knew the name: S. Donald Sussman.

The low-profile hedge fund manager has been giving money to nonprofits and community groups on Deer Isle and the Blue Hill peninsula for nearly two decades.

“He said, ‘I’d like to give you a building,’” Alden said. “Simple as that.”

The waterfront building that Sussman renovated for the group is now a gathering place for fishermen and the permanent home for the Penobscot East Resource Center, which seeks to secure a future for the fishing communities of eastern Maine.

In North Haven, students at North Haven Community School are building a greenhouse and new classroom space, a project funded entirely by Sussman, who lives on the island.

“He’s been extremely generous and supportive of this little community,” said the school’s principal, Barney Hallowell. “He deserves better than what I’ve been reading.”

Most Mainers know Sussman as the wealthy fiance of U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, the Democrat who has been in the news lately over their travel on his private jet. But many people in the midcoast know Sussman as a soft-spoken and unassuming man, someone who has used his enormous personal wealth to help community projects.

His favorite causes are related to conservation, agriculture and fisheries. Sussman, 64, began donating money soon after he started vacationing at his summer home on Deer Isle in the early 1990s.

In 2009, he became a Maine resident. He pays income taxes here, has cars registered here and holds a Maine driver’s license. He met Pingree in 2007, at the 50th birthday party for a mutual friend, and the couple say they got engaged in 2008, after she was elected to Congress.

Sussman is the founder of Paloma Partners, a 29-year-old hedge fund based in Greenwich, Conn., that manages investments valued at between $1.6 billion and nearly $3 billion, according to published reports.

Sussman’s real estate holdings provide a glimpse of the extent of his wealth.

He owns a 37-acre estate in Greenwich that is assessed at $9 million.

In Maine, he owns the vacation home on Deer Isle, assessed at more than $1 million. On North Haven, he owns two parcels: a 165-acre lot and house, assessed at $11.5 million, and a nearby 55-acre lot and garage, valued at nearly $600,000.

Sussman owns six parcels in Portland, including three condominiums on Hampshire Street, valued at nearly $900,000.

Until a few years ago, he spent most of his time at his house on St. John in the Virgin Islands, which allowed him to avoid paying federal taxes on a significant portion of his income.

Sussman declined to be interviewed for this story.

He has become a major contributor to community organizations in the midcoast, statewide environmental groups, organizations that help the poor, art museums and libraries. He also has spent much of his money supporting Democrats and liberal political groups in Maine.

In 2002, he gave $300,000 to a joint fundraising committee, established with the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, that was set up to help Pingree in her unsuccessful campaign against Republican Sen. Susan Collins.

In 2002, Sussman donated $303,700 to the Fund for Maine’s Future, an environmental political action committee. From 2004 to 2006, he gave $165,000 to the Maine Democratic State Committee.

In the current election cycle, Sussman and members of his family have given Pingree $12,000. In addition, employees of Paloma Partners, their spouses and people who live near the company’s headquarters in Greenwich have given Pingree nearly $75,000.

Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat, said he got to know Sussman when he was a congressman because of Sussman’s interest in establishing a national park in Maine’s North Woods, an effort that Baldacci opposed. He said Sussman never lobbied for his own business interests.

“I appreciated the fact that he never looked for anything for himself other than to protect the state of Maine,” Baldacci said.

Baldacci’s predecessor, Gov. Angus King, an independent, said he and Sussman were on different sides in the late 1990s over a campaign to ban clear-cutting in the North Woods. Sussman favored the ban and King opposed it.

King said they have since become friends. This summer, he had breakfast with Sussman and Pingree at Sussman’s home on North Haven. He said Sussman is an “ordinary guy” who just happens to have a lot of money.

“I think he’s an asset to this state because he’s willing to spend money here and make investments and be philanthropic,” King said. “That’s to our benefit. I started out not wanting to like this guy and ended up liking him a great deal.”

 

Staff Researcher Beth Murphy contributed to this report.

 

Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at: [email protected]