In 1959, Joyce Mertz and her parents, LuEsther and Harold, established a family foundation called the Mertz Foundation. Joyce married Robert Wallace Gilmore in June of 1964, and the couple began managing the Foundation's operations. Their strong personal convictions influenced both their approach to grantmaking and their funding interests. Together with their colleague and friend, Bayard Rustin, they became strong advocates for peace and civil rights issues for a number of years. Their grantmaking was a logical extension of that work. They also were committed passionately to the quality of life in New York City where they lived and made grants to performing arts institutions and to groups working to protect the citys environment. Their interest in the environment led them to support programs reaching beyond the city to include state, national and global issues as well.
Initially, family members provided the Foundation with funds on a yearly basis. However, when Joyce Mertz Gilmore died in January 1974, her will provided for an endowment to the Foundation. Robert Gilmore soon changed the Foundations name to the Joyce Mertz-Gilmore Foundation in her honor and memory. Robert Gilmore died some years later in 1988 after a long struggle with Alzheimer's Disease, but not before he set the Foundation on a new course by expanding the Board beyond the family. His heirs donated a generous portion of his estate to the Foundation.
In 2002, the Board of Directors changed the name of the Foundation to the Mertz Gilmore Foundation to honor the memory of Robert, as he had previously done with Joyce.
While always open to new ideas and changing needs, the Foundation has remained true to the values and interests of the founders and their views about how a foundation should function. The Board continues to believe, as did the founders, that the Foundation's primary task is to find effective organizations working within its program interests and to provide them with the necessary funds to carry out their work.