Carnegie Family

Letters to Andrew Carnegie

Carnegie Family

William Thomson, CBE

Chairman Emeritus, Carnegie UK Trust

Letters to Andrew Carnegie | Carnegie Family

Dear Grandpa Neigie,


Thank you for your letter. I am glad you enjoyed all the family news. You asked how things were going generally with the Carnegie legacy, and I will try to give you a rough overview.

First of all, out of your foundations existing in 1919, all bar two are thriving today. The two no longer with us are the German Hero Fund, which was closed down in 1937, and the French Hero Fund, which in 2011 decided to close and use its endowment to fund a Fulbright scholarship. To prevent further closures, the Hero Fund Commission in Pittsburgh took the initiative to create an umbrella body called the Carnegie Hero Funds World Committee. With funding from Carnegie Corporation of New York, it has been successful in encouraging the remaining Hero Funds, particularly in the cases of Belgium, Switzerland, and Italy. All the Hero Funds depend on the dedication of the individuals who run them and in that regard they have been most fortunate.

One of the changes that has taken place in the last 20 years has been the creation of the Medal of Philanthropy, which is given every two years to those individual philanthropists who follow your example of giving. The involvement of all the Carnegie foundations in the selection process has had the happy consequence of bringing all your foundations together. At the biennial award ceremony, representatives from the Carnegie foundations attend a specially convened business meeting and meet informally during the ceremony events.

On the British front the foundations have been hampered by not being able to grow their endowments as successfully as their American counterparts. This was largely due to the restrictive investment rules imposed on charities over most of the last century and, more recently, less favourable tax rules. Nevertheless, the UK foundations continue to evolve and thrive. They are now all housed together in a single purpose-built office in Pittencrieff Park in Dunfermline. The prize-winning building fits seamlessly into the landscape on the north side of the park.


Your example of giving away your huge fortune has been widely adopted by others, and the name Carnegie is synonymous with philanthropy. We, your descendants, are immensely proud of you — your great reputation is the best inheritance ever.


The one area of your legacy which has not achieved what it set out to achieve is the abolishment of war. Although there has not been a world war for nearly 75 years, there have been plenty of smaller ones. Airborne ordnance has meant civilians continue to bear the brunt of the casualties. There is also a global threat from terrorists who use the random slaughter of unarmed and unprotected civilians to further their aims. The imposing Peace Palace in The Hague has had some success in providing a forum for peaceful resolution of disputes between countries, but nothing done so far has been effective in stopping humans from killing each other.

One of your initiatives which has become obsolete is the funding of church organs. The decline in church attendance in the UK has brought the closure of many churches and therefore there are fewer organs. However, those that remain are usually lovingly maintained and, where applicable, their rich tones continue to relieve the monotony of the sermon.

Libraries are also under threat as the local authority councils struggle to find funding to keep them running. Yet they remain a core part of society, and closures are usually fiercely contested by concerned citizens.

You will be glad to know that your beloved Skibo continues — now as a country club. The castle and grounds are beautifully looked after, and the club provides a lot of local employment in the area. Golf thrives in Dornoch and surrounding areas. The 9-hole ladies course at Dornoch, which Grandma Neigie was instrumental in establishing, has been extended to a full 18-hole course, and the lovely little 9-hole course at Bonar Bridge which she opened in 1904 remains as popular as ever. The Carnegie Shield, reputed to be one of golf’s most valuable trophies, is keenly contested every year, and this year it will be for the 106th time.

Your family continues to grow. From your single offspring, Margaret, born in 1898, came four grandchildren and from them 14 great-grandchildren. Then came 32 great, great-grandchildren and now great, great, great-grandchildren are beginning to arrive.

In summary, I would say that all is well with the Carnegie legacy. Your foundations, which you wisely left unfettered by restrictive rules, have adapted well to the changing world. Their work has helped to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of individuals. Your example of giving away your huge fortune has been widely adopted by others, and the name Carnegie is synonymous with philanthropy. We, your descendants, are immensely proud of you — your great reputation is the best inheritance ever.

William Thomson CBE

Chairman Emeritus, Carnegie UK Trust