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Joan Whitney Payson : biography

February 5, 1903 - October 4, 1975

Joan Whitney Payson (February 5, 1903 – October 4, 1975) was an American heiress, businesswoman, philanthropist, patron of the arts and art collector, and a member of the prominent Whitney family. She was also co-founder and majority owner of Major League Baseball's New York Mets baseball franchise, and was the first woman to own a major-league team in North America without inheriting it.

Thoroughbred horse racing

Joan Whitney also inherited her father and grandfather's love of thoroughbred horse racing. Following her father's death, her mother took over management of his Greentree Stable, an equestrian estate and horse racing stable in Saratoga Springs, New York, and the Greentree breeding farm in Lexington, Kentucky. In 1932, her mother gifted her a colt named Rose Cross whom she raced under the nom de course, Manhasset Stable. Rose Cross won the 1934 Dwyer Stakes and finished a good fifth in the Belmont Stakes.

In partnership with her brother, Joan Whitney operated the highly successful Greentree stable, winning numerous important Graded stakes races including the Kentucky Derby twice, the Preakness Stakes once, and the Belmont Stakes four times. Payson and her husband owned an art-filled 50-room mansion at Greentree, the Whitney family estate in Manhasset, New York.

Joan Whitney Payson died in New York City, aged 72, after the 1975 baseball season. She is buried in the Pine Grove Cemetery, in Falmouth, Maine. Following her death, her daughter, Lorinda de Roulet, assumed the title of president of the Mets.

Her heirs sold their stock in the New York Mets in January 1980 as well as Greentree Farm. In 2005, the equestrian property in Saratoga Springs was put up for sale with an asking price of $19 million. In 1991, her son, John Whitney Payson, permanently installed the Joan Whitney Payson Collection in the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine where the Charles Shipman Payson Building cornerstones the Museum and is home to seventeen paintings by Winslow Homer he donated.

New York Mets

Joan Whitney Payson was a sports enthusiast who was a minority shareholder in the old New York Giants Major League Baseball club. She and her husband opposed moving the team to San Francisco in 1957. After the majority of the shareholders approved the move, Ms. Payson sold her stock and began working to get a replacement team for New York City. Along with M. Donald Grant, the only other director who opposed the Giants' move, Payson put together a group that won a New York franchise in the Continental League, a proposed third major league. The National League responded by awarding an expansion team to Payson's group, which became the New York Mets.

Payson served as the team's president from 1968-1975. Active in the affairs of the baseball club, she was much admired by the team's personnel and players. She was inducted posthumously into the New York Mets Hall of Fame in 1981. She was also the first woman to buy majority control of a team in a major North American sports league, rather than inheriting it.

Payson was instrumental in the return of Willie Mays to New York City baseball in May 1972 by way of trade and cash from the Giants.

Early life

Joan Whitney was born in New York City, the daughter of Payne Whitney and Helen Julia Hay. Her brother was John Hay Whitney. She inherited a trust fund from her grandfather, William C. Whitney and on her father's death in 1927, she received a large part of the family fortune. She attended what is now the The Chapin School, then studied at Barnard College for a year, as well as taking some courses at Brown.http://bioproj.sabr.org/bioproj.cfm?a=v&v=l&pid=16918&bid=791

She married lawyer and businessman Charles Shipman Payson, a native of Maine and a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School. Her husband was a Board member of Pepperdine University and together they provided the funds to build the university's library that was named for them. In 1943, she established and endowed the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation (named in honor of her mother) for medical research.

An avid art collector, she purchased a variety of artwork but favored Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works with her collection containing watercolors, drawings and paintings. She owned numerous pieces including those by James McNeill Whistler, Pierre Auguste Renoir, Gustave Courbet, Maurice Prendergast, Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, Honoré Daumier, Joshua Reynolds, Claude Monet, Henri Rousseau, Jan Provost, Édouard Manet, Lucas Cranach the Elder, Paul Cézanne, Henri Matisse, and Alfred Sisley. Payson was also a strong supporter of American artists, acquiring works by Thomas Eakins, Arthur B. Davies, Andrew Wyeth, Winslow Homer and John Singer Sargent. Payson donated significant works to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City where the "Joan Whitney Payson Galleries" can be found.

The Joan Whitney Payson Collection is on permanent loan to the Portland Museum of Art in Portland, Maine and to Colby College in Waterville, Maine for one semester every two years. Regular educational tours of parts of the collection are offered to institutions throughout the United States.

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