History of the Dyson Foundation

Charles H. (1909-1997) and Margaret M. Dyson (1911-1990) started the Dyson Foundation in 1957 to serve as a vehicle for family giving. Some years later, when Charles, or Charlie as he was known, was asked why he and his wife had begun the foundation, he replied that he and Margaret “were making a little more money than we expected” and that “we were not giving away as much as we felt we should.” 

An unpretentious, industrious man, with a true financial genius, Charlie was the son of immigrants of modest means. He went to work after finishing high school in Englewood, New Jersey and attended night classes at what was then Pace Institute (now Pace University). After working for an accounting firm, followed by an extraordinary period of public service with the U.S. Army Air Force and the Department of the Treasury during the Second World War, he worked for several large manufacturing businesses before he started his own company in 1954. That business, now called the Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corporation, became a large international holding company, and Charlie became known as a renowned pioneer in the field of leveraged buyouts. In 1970, Frank Kissner, one of Charlie’s partners, said that “Charlie had the particular trait of attracting the loyalty of people. They knew he would be behind them and support them in any reasonable stand they took.”

Known as much for his community service as his business acumen, Charlie was a well-respected philanthropist and fundraiser for the many organizations that were beneficiaries of his largesse. His wife, Margaret, whom he married in 1941, was a partner in all of Charlie’s endeavors, from weighing in on his business transactions to making her mark on their philanthropic activities. Together they raised four children: John (b. 1943), Rob (b. 1946), Anne (1947-2000) and Peter (1951-2016).

In its earliest years, the Foundation gave modestly to a wide variety of organizations and causes, with a significant emphasis on college scholarships to young people. It was clear to everyone that knew Charlie that he dearly loved the opportunity to give young people a better chance at an education. Rightfully proud of his accomplishments, he felt that his own education had prepared him well to succeed in business. As the first member of his family to attend college, he understood that education had widened his prospects and felt that education was a great equalizer in American society. By the late 1960s the Foundation's focus changed to include more general purpose funding. From the 1950s through the 1970s, the Foundation's total grants ranged from $50,000 to $200,000 per year.

In 1978, Charlie made the decision to step down as President of the Foundation and passed the reins to his daughter Anne. A generous philanthropist in her own right, Anne was vivacious, smart and driven by a commitment to improve the lives of children. Having just received an M.D. degree and completed an internship in pediatrics at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children in Philadelphia, she returned to New York to be a Guest Investigator at Rockefeller University and Clinical Fellow in the Department of Pediatrics at the Cornell University Medical College (now the Weill Cornell Medical College).

Over the years, Anne served on the boards of Planned Parenthood of New York City, the Metropolitan Opera, Dana-Farber Cancer Center, the Hole in the Wall Gang Camp, Weill Cornell Medical College, the Clown Care Unit of the Big Apple Circus and Children’s Hospital in Boston.

Anne also brought a more professional focus to the Foundation’s work, formalizing a philosophy for the Foundation’s giving and establishing four specific giving areas, which included the arts, education, medicine and social programs. In particular, Anne worked to increase the Foundation’s levels of funding in the areas of medicine and child health. At the same time, the Foundation also began giving more dollars to organizations in Dutchess County, New York, where the family maintained a country home. During Anne’s first decade as President, the Foundation's annual giving grew to over $1 million per year, and, after receiving a $20 million endowment upon Margaret Dyson’s death in 1990, giving increased to more than $10 million.

In 1991, Anne hired the Foundation’s first professional staff person, Diana Gurieva, to serve as Executive Director. Diana came well prepared for the job, having served as President and CEO of three large Planned Parenthood affiliates, and having more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit world. Shortly after taking on her role at the Foundation, Diana brought on additional staff and the offices moved from Schenectady NY (where Anne had been living) to Millerton, NY.

In 1997, Charlie Dyson passed away, leaving a rather large endowment to the Foundation. The Foundation’s assets during 1997 jumped from $4.8 million to over $141 million, and by year end 1998, would more than double to almost $308 million. New investment and legal advisers were retained and the Board adopted a comprehensive set of standards to govern its work. The family and board also began to focus on “niche” funding areas (which evolved into the Foundation’s current Program Areas) and the Foundation’s first program officer was hired. At this time, the Foundation offices moved from Millerton to Millbrook, NY – a more centrally located town in Dutchess County, and more convenient for focusing on its Mid-Hudson Valley grantmaking, which, by this time, had become significant.

After Anne’s death in 2000, her brother, Rob Dyson, took on the presidency, carrying on the good works his father and sister had begun. Also at that time, Diana Gurieva became Executive Vice President. Rob was educated at Marietta College (B.A. in Economics) and the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University (M.B.A.). He serves as Chairman and CEO of Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corp., the company founded by his father, and lives in Millbrook, NY, where his two children, Christopher and Molly, were raised. Now successful adults in their own right, Chris and Molly also serve on the Foundation’s board of directors. 

Rob brought his own interests to the Foundation’s work, funding recreational opportunities for young people, and spreading the influence of the Foundation’s funding through a focus on public policy and support of philanthropy. But one significant legacy of Rob’s tenure will be the Walkway Over the Hudson – the transformation of an abandoned railroad bridge into a pedestrian park in the sky that connects the City of Poughkeepsie and the Town of Lloyd. Since it’s opening, the Walkway has seen up to 500,000 visitors annually, locals and tourists alike, helping to revitalize the region.

Civic and community leadership is an important role for Rob.  He currently serves on the board of Health Quest Systems, the largest integrated health system in the Mid-Hudson Valley which includes Vassar Brothers Medical Center, Northern Dutchess Hospital and Putnam Hospital Center.  He recently stepped down as the Chairman of the Board of Marist College and still serves as a trustee.  He is on the board of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Foundation, and is a life member of the Board of Trustees of Cornell University.  He has previously served on the boards of many other voluntary organizations on the national and regional levels. 

In 2015, Diana Gurieva, stepped down as Executive Vice President of the Foundation and Andrea Reynolds, formerly of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley was hired as Diana’s successor. As part of this transition, Andrea became President and CEO and Rob Dyson continued as Chairman of the Board. By any measure, the impact of Diana’s tenure was impressive. With a focus on channeling funds where they would have the greatest impact, Diana personally oversaw more than $330 million in grants awarded, providing core support to a dizzying array of organizations both large and small. Along with Rob, Diana’s legacy includes the oversight and management of the Walkway Over the Hudson project, as well as the development of Upper Landing Park, a pocket-park along the Hudson River that serves as the main entry to a 21-story outdoor elevator, which shuttles visitors back and forth between the Walkway Over the Hudson and the Poughkeepsie waterfront. Ms. Gurieva passed away in early 2017 after a lengthy battle with cancer. Her keen intellect, drive, curiosity, and exceedingly high standards are missed by all.

When the Dyson Foundation was started in 1957, there were only about 4,000 foundations in the United States; today there are over 86,000. Since its founding, the Foundation has paid out over $359 million in grants to organizations large and small, national and local, in the Mid-Hudson Valley and beyond. The Dyson Foundation’s current grantmaking includes a significant grants program in the Mid-Hudson Valley of New York State that seeks to improve the quality of life in the region, create opportunities and support for economically disadvantaged individuals and families, and strengthen the nonprofit sector. The Dyson Foundation also supports a number of organizations and causes that are tied to Dyson family interests. Its assets currently stand at approximately $205 million. In 2016, the Dyson Foundation awarded grants totaling more than $14 million.