Monday 09 June 2003
Frank Elijah Taplin, industrialist and philanthropist: born Cleveland, Ohio 22 June 1915; MBE 1949; married first Ngaio Thornton Lowry (one son, two daughters; marriage dissolved), second 1953 Peggy Eaton; died Princeton, New Jersey 11 May 2003.
Frank Taplin was a distinguished patron of the arts. His fortune came from the North American Coal Corporation of Cleveland, and he used his wealth generously to support artistic, educational and environmental causes at home and in Britain.
After graduating from Princeton University in 1937, he went to Queen's College, Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, taking a degree in Jurisprudence, followed by a law degree at Yale University. During the Second World War he served in Navy Intelligence in the Pacific.
While at Oxford, he formed lasting friendships, one of his contemporaries being the future prime minister Edward Heath, with whom he shared a love of music. He continued to keep in touch with Britain and a wide circle of friends, who saw him as a "Hon. Brit." Indeed, he had been due to visit a Rhodes Scholars' reunion in Oxford this month.
Taplin's main love and interest was music. He was a serious amateur pianist, often performing chamber music with professional musicians. On occasions he also indulged in playing hot jazz. He was also given to writing witty doggerels about his friends.
One of his closest musical connections in Britain was with the June festival at Aldeburgh, in Suffolk, of which he was Vice-President. He had known and admired Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, the founders of the festival in 1948, and over the years Taplin and his second wife, Peggy, were frequent and much-loved visitors to the event. His practical support in fund-raising and experienced advice was of great value and extended to his gift of a harpsichord to Aldeburgh. He and his wife had been due to visit the festival this year and as on previous occasions to celebrate his birthday, the date of which coincided with that of Peter Pears, on 22 June.
In the United States, Taplin's patronage was extensive. His most important achievement was his work with the Metropolitan Opera in New York. As president of the board of directors from 1977 to 1984, he was the key figure in fund-raising at a financially difficult time for the company, raising $100m. His passionate involvement with every aspect of the organisation is best illustrated by his gift of the Met Company's cafeteria, where artists as well as all members of staff congregate, and which bears his name. He was also instrumental in raising money for the Cleveland Orchestra and Institute of Music, for the Marlboro Music Festival and Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society.
With such a varied and remarkable career, Frank Taplin remained unassuming, committed and enthusiastic in everything he undertook. Among his many gifts, the greatest was one of friendship.
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