Mary Cain, philanthropist and benefactor of Morehead-Cain, dies at 96

The Morehead-Cain community grieves the loss of Mary H. Cain (1925–2021), who passed away on December 31.

Mrs. Cain and her late husband, Gordon A. Cain (1912–2002), co-founded the Gordon and Mary Cain Foundation in 1988 to provide financial support to charitable organizations, with a focus on education. 

In February 2007, the Cain Foundation granted $100 million to support and grow the then-Morehead Scholars Program.

At the time of the announcement, Mrs. Cain said that her hope for the gift was to “accelerate the achievement” of the Foundation’s goal of increasing the annual number of merit scholarships offered, and the experiential learning opportunities available to Morehead Scholars. 

“My husband, Gordon, was deeply devoted to education and the development of leaders in our society,” said the late benefactor. “This gift . . . is a wonderful opportunity for the Cain Foundation to make a significant contribution toward that goal and to have a lasting impact on our society.”

To reflect the significance of the gift, the trustees renamed the John Motley Morehead Foundation to be known thereafter as the Morehead-Cain Foundation. The Morehead Scholars Program became the Morehead-Cain Program.

Morehead-Cain President Chris Bradford described the 2007 gift as one that “changed the trajectory of the Foundation.” 

“Mary Cain’s belief in the power and potential of leaders has left an indelible imprint,” Bradford said. “We are grateful for the opportunity to carry her and Gordon’s legacy forward in this new year—and beyond.”

An ‘immediate and transformative impact’

The grant enabled Morehead-Cain to increase the number of scholarships offered annually, from approximately 50 to more than 75 scholars per class, according to David C. Wright, III ’80, chair of the Foundation’s board of trustees.

“As an alumnus—and later, as chair of the trustees—I readily saw the immediate and transformative impact of the Cain family’s gift,” said Wright, who assumed the role of chair in 2016. “Morehead-Cain is forever indebted to Mary for her generosity, and we’ll always be committed to realizing the shared vision of both Mary and Gordon.” 

Expanding the Program 

Although the Foundation has always striven to provide a lifelong experience, the gift allowed Morehead-Cain to “dream even bigger” in enhancing what the Program could offer, said Megan Mazzocchi, associate director and director of alumni engagement. 

“We were able to swiftly implement several long-term goals, including establishing the Discovery Fund, the SEVEN Program, and the alumni speaker series,” Mazzocchi said. “Mary’s perspicacity and tireless work in extending Gordon’s legacy made that possible.” 

The collaborative nature of the work facilitated a warm working relationship with Mrs. Cain and her family, said Lucy Hanes Chatham, a former member of Morehead-Cain’s board of trustees and its longtime chair. 

“Not only did I get the opportunity of working with Mary on the gift, but I ended up with a treasured friendship; I got two gifts from the whole thing,” said Chatham, who stepped down from the board in 2020 after 43 years of service to the Foundation. The Camden, South Carolina, resident is a cousin of John Motley Morehead III, the Foundation’s original benefactor, as well the granddaughter of founding trustee John Lindsay Morehead II. 

Mrs. Cain was appointed to the board as a trustee emerita following the gift, and the Foundation was fortunate to have her son, James D. Weaver, and daughter, Margaret W. Weaver, serve several terms on the Morehead-Cain Board of Trustees. 

In 2007, the Morehead-Cain Foundation established the Mary H. Cain Professorship in Art History (within the Department of Art and Art History at Carolina) in honor of Mrs. Cain. The $2 million endowment, combined with a matching gift from the state of North Carolina, added four Honors Carolina courses within the department. The professorship is currently held by Dr. Christoph Brachmann, who specializes in the art and architecture of medieval and early modern Europe. 

Read more about the late benefactor.

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