Donor Profile: John R. Bermingham

The Denver Foundation

A love of nature and a willingness to embrace change have defined Senator John R. Bermingham as a civil servant, and a donor.

Senator John R. Bermingham has always been ahead of his time. As a Colorado State Senator from 1965 to 1973, he was a champion of reproductive rights, climate change, and environmental issues long before most Americans had even heard of those concepts.

He is best remembered for—and most proud of—the pivotal role he played in expanding abortion rights in Colorado. With then-State Representative Richard Lamm, he co-authored and diligently lobbied for a bill that would make Colorado the first state in the country to liberalize its abortion laws. It passed in 1967, six years before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationally. 

Sen. Bermingham was also an early and influential voice for environmental conservation and climate change awareness.

As a child, he learned about the natural world through up-close, personal experiences. His father was a savvy investor who moved the family’s wealth away from the stock market and into land holdings ahead of the 1929 crash, avoiding the turmoil of the Great Depression. As a young man, John was introduced to ranching on the family’s property in Wyoming; in Alabama, it was tree farming.

After graduating from Yale University with a degree in engineering, followed by a law degree from Columbia University in 1949, he made his way out West. He established his own law firm. It was successful, but he left after feeling called to civil service.

"As a philanthropist, Senator Bermingham has always been forward-thinking as he was in his political career."

Sen. Bermingham’s early experiences gave him an appreciation for the role of natural resources in business, and how climate and population pressures can negatively impact environments.

In the Senate, he worked across the aisle to sponsor legislation to preserve open space, improve solid waste disposal, and place controls on radiation and air and water pollution. In the 1970s, he began to study the implications of a changing climate.

As a philanthropist, Sen. Bermingham has always been as forward-thinking as he was in his political career. The Bermingham Family Foundation supported organizations focused on population issues, reproductive rights, the environment, and climate change for many years.

In 2016, Bermingham closed the foundation and opened donor-advised funds at The Denver Foundation for himself and his three children.

Now 95, Sen. Bermingham continues to support issues he cares about through the fund and to influence his children’s giving. Daughter Kate is an avid environmental philanthropist and an active member of The Denver Foundation’s Environmental Affinity Group.

As Sen. Bermingham reflects on a life of significant influence and accomplishment, he takes heart knowing that the next generations of the Bermingham family will carry his ideas, his passions, and his generosity forward.


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