March 11, 2013

Maine philanthropist Elsie Viles dies at age 98

By BETTY ADAMS Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA – Philanthropist Elsie Pike Viles, who gave her heart and her money to support local causes, died Saturday at age 98.

click image to enlarge

Philanthropist Elsie Pike Viles, who gave her heart and her money to support central Maine causes, died Saturday at age 98.

Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

This July 2008 file photo shows Elsie Viles riding down Water Street when she was the 2008 Independence Day parade grand marshal in Augusta.

Joe Phelan / Staff Photographer

Donations from the Elsie & William Viles Foundation built the healing garden at the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care and helped fund the new Alfond Center for Health, the proposed Lithgow Public Library expansion, the building of the Kennebec Valley YMCA, the stained-glass window restoration at South Parish Congregational Church and the auditorium at Cony High School, among many other civic endeavors.

Viles had spent much of the past few years at the historic Cony/Manley House on Stone Street, where she had lived since 1955. She died at home, said her longtime friend and attorney, Warren Winslow.

Grandson Will Lund said Viles knew how to leverage her money and influence to gain donations from others and frequently set up matching grant challenges.

"She made sure she was comfortable with the charity or with the cause before she extended herself," Lund said. "She asked the tough questions, so recipients were expected to remain accountable as well. She accomplished everything she set out to do in her 98 years."

Winslow said Viles took a personal interest in each charity she supported.

"Her enthusiasm was contagious," Winslow said. "No matter what project she was interested in, she could get other people interested in that as well. I'll never forget about five years ago one of the local charities made arrangements for Elsie to come over to make arrangements to give funds to their charity. At the end of the meeting, Elsie was able to talk the chair of the group into giving to one of the projects she was working on."

In 2007, she was recognized by the Legislature for her community contributions, and then-Gov. John Baldacci named her "first lady for a day."

On a 2008 "Cornerstone: The Story of Elsie Viles" video about Viles' life and contributions to the community, Viles talks about why she donated to a project or organization: "I want to make it even better than it is, if I can. What you choose to do lasts."

Viles' recent contributions include a $500,000 donation for the proposed renovation and expansion of Lithgow Public Library, $10,000 from the William and Elsie Viles Foundation to build a proposed memorial to patients who died at the former Augusta Mental Health Institute, $1 million to create the William and Elsie Viles Healing Garden at MaineGeneral's Alfond Center for Cancer Care, and $500,000 to Team Cony to help build Cony High School. She donated much of the money for the restoration of the stained-glass windows at South Parish Congregational Church.

Viles was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, where her father was working as a dentist. After his death, she, her two siblings and mother moved to Maine – first to Waterville and then to Augusta, her adopted hometown.

After finishing high school, Viles worked for more than 20 years at the Kennebec Journal in a department that handled outside printing jobs. She married her late husband, William, the widower of a friend, at 41.

William Viles owned a timber company, a paper company and the former Augusta Lumber Co. Viles made some donations on her own and others through her family's foundation.

-- Kennebec Journal staff writer Keith Edwards contributed to this report.

Betty Adams can be reached at 621-5631 or at

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