Mr. and Mrs. Selby can best be described as low-key millionaires who are remembered for their down-to-earth attitudes and frugal lifestyles.
William Selby was born February 1, 1884 in Marietta, Ohio. At the age of 24, he married Marie, his hometown sweetheart. At the time of their marriage, Mrs. Selby was an accomplished pianist. Around the turn of the century, William‘s father formed the Selby Oil and Gas Company. It soon became one of the country‘s principal oil drilling farms. In 1948, the company merged with Texaco. In the first year of their marriage, the Selbys followed with keen interest the first transcontinental automobile race between Seattle and New York City. They decided to travel the course themselves and loaded their touring car with spare parts and camping equipment. They made the trip in six fewer days than the winning car in the race. Marie Selby became the first woman to cross the country by automobile.
The Selbys started visiting Sarasota in 1909 and lived in their houseboat before moving to their bayfront home. They built a house in the mid-twenties amid the Cuban laurels and banyan trees on a five-acre tract located on Sarasota Bay. This two-story stucco house, intended to be temporary, became their home on a permanent basis. Mrs. Selby directed much of the landscaping on the grounds, planting extensive flowerbeds to enhance the native vegetation. Mr. Selby was a sportsman, who spent his leisure time hunting and fishing. It was these sports that brought the Selbys to Sarasota. In the early 1900‘s, he would arrive by boat and stay at the Belle Haven Hotel which became his base between expeditions to the Everglades and the offshore Keys and islands.
Mr. Selby died in December of 1956, however, one year prior to his death, he set up the Charitable Trust with $3,000,000. Mr. Selby set up the trust because he wished to help young people. In his oil business, he encountered a great number of young men with untapped potential who were handicapped by lack of technical education. Not having children of their own, the Selbys were concerned about young people. They wanted to use their money to help the youth of future generations.
After Mr. Selby‘s death, Marie Selby became heavily involved with the activities of the Foundation and encouraged giving to a variety of charitable organizations. She often matched a grant from the Foundation with an equal gift from her own resources. New College in Sarasota received its first major gift of $500,000 in this manner. The Foundation gave $250,000 and Mrs. Selby matched the grant with a like amount.
Marie Selby died in 1971 at the age of 86. She left her home and five acres of landscape grounds for the development of a botanical garden for the enjoyment of the general public. She left $2,000,000 to provide an endowment for the gardens to help support the operation and maintenance. The balance of her $16,500,000 estate was left to the Foundation. Trust documents designated Palmer Bank as trustee, whose successor banks include Southeast Bank, First Union, Wachovia and now Wells Fargo.
With an investment of $19,500,000, the William G. and Marie Selby Foundation has made a significant impact on the lives of thousands of young people and on the operation of hundreds of charitable organizations. Two significant contributions to the Foundation, one in 1955 and one in 1972, totaling $19,500,000 have made possible financial assistance to individuals and organizations in excess of $83,500,000. At the same time, the corpus of the Foundation has been preserved and today has a market value of over $68,000,000. This insures a continuing contribution of nearly $4,000,000 a year for scholarships and grants to benefit the local community.