PORTLAND – Daniel E. O’Leary, who led the Portland Museum of Art through 14 years of prosperity and growth, is returning to Portland to work with Roxanne Quimby as the philanthropist unites her three charitable organizations around the central mission of improving the lives of Mainers.

Quimby introduced O’Leary during a private party Tuesday night at her home in Portland’s West End.

“The Portland Museum of Art under his leadership not only prospered financially, but was an anchor for the Arts District when the Arts District was really just a dream,” Quimby said. “By providing good leadership and strong anchorage on the top of Congress Street, the museum made it possible for Portland to become the city that it is today.”

She expects O’Leary to have similar successes with her charitable work, and hopes that her foundation initiatives will create “a similar kind of anchor for a certain kind of creativity and vitality that we can do in our own way.”

Quimby’s philanthropic work involves wilderness preservation and promotion of nonconsumptive recreation; family farm protection; arts promotion; community and historic preservation; and entrepreneurial innovation and job creation.

Collectively, her foundations manage 120,000 acres in Maine and distribute millions of dollars in grants to encourage economic growth in small towns across rural Maine, as well as in Portland.

During O’Leary’s tenure as museum director, which began in 1993, attendance increased from 88,000 a year to 150,000, and the budget grew from $1.8 million to $4.6 million. The endowment also ballooned, and O’Leary balanced the budget each year.

He also supervised two major building projects. He led the effort to restore the McLellan House and Sweat Galleries at the museum’s downtown campus, and purchased and began the restoration of the Winslow Homer Studio at Prouts Neck in Scarborough.

The Homer studio effort particularly caught Quimby’s attention because of the sensitive nature of discussions with the studio’s neighbors and the delicate aspect of the project itself.

“It was a complicated situation, but he pulled it off,” Quimby said.

O’Leary left the museum in 2008, and last year accepted a position as director of the Munson-Williams-Proctor Arts Institute in Utica, N.Y.

O’Leary will fill a CEO role for Quimby’s operation. He will oversee and manage Elliotsville Plantantion Inc., a private land conservation foundation; the Quimby Family Foundation, which awards grants to advance wilderness values and increase access to the arts; and the Quimby Colony, an urban artist-in-residence program in Portland.

Quimby, a controversial figure who made her fortune as a co-founder of Burt’s Bees personal care products, said O’Leary will operate the triad with the same business savvy that marked his time at the museum.

“My background is in business, so I see his as a CEO-type role,” she said. “I want him to create synergy among all three foundations, and manage the relationships between them. I believe having one person in charge will create efficiencies that will help move the missions of all three forward.”

He couldn’t refuse the offer to return to Portland because of Quimby’s lofty goals, O’Leary said.

“She is the first person I have ever known who is fully aware of the deep solidarity among the different facets of life in Maine,” he said. “She understands the linkage among the family farms, the importance of preserving wilderness, the value of the arts, the role of the creative economy, and how all of those things working together lead to job creation.”

O’Leary, 67, will start his new duties immediately. He and his wife, Kathy Bouchard, live in Scarborough, and will return to the house they occupied before O’Leary left for New York. 

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or: [email protected]