San Diego Philanthropist Conrad Prebys Dies of Cancer

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — After a long battle with cancer, San Diego philanthropist Conrad Prebys passed away Sunday, July 24, 2016 at Scripps Mercy Hospital San Diego.  In a statement issued Monday, the Prebys family said, “Born with a giving spirit, Conrad’s deep generosity has helped strengthen and enrich the community in many important ways, including health care, medical research, music, theater, youth services, and wildlife preservation.”

Conrad Prebys Biography – Courtesy: Scripps Health

Born in South Bend, Ind., Conrad Prebys was raised in a blue collar, ethnic, working class neighborhood where the mindset was to complete high school and then work in the local factories of Studebaker or Bendix. When he was 8 years old, he developed a heart condition which doctors said would force him to lead a sedentary life and leave him unable to do manual labor. His parents decided that he should learn to play the piano as a way to make a living as an adult.

The turning point in his life was meeting an inspirational high school drama teacher who exposed him to culture and the arts. The teacher was also influential in encouraging Conrad to further his education. Conrad was the first of five brothers to attend and graduate from Indiana University. He was also the first in his neighborhood to go beyond high school. To this day, Conrad attributes his appreciation for the theater, music and his success in business to this inspirational teacher. 

Starting from his first job delivering newspapers at the age of 8, Conrad became a successful entrepreneur with Progress Construction Company and various real estate enterprises in San Diego. He was inspired to share his good fortune with the San Diego community.

His generosity included capital and operating gifts to Scripps Health, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the San Diego Zoo, the Old Globe Theatre, UCSD Music Centre, the La Jolla Music Society, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in San Diego and Orlando Florida, the Salk Institute, Indiana University, San Diego State University, San Diego Museum of Art and Masterpiece Theater.

Conrad’s other interests included classical music, travel and football.

Statement from Scripps Health:

The entire Scripps Health family is deeply saddened by the loss of Conrad Prebys. It’s impossible to overstate the important role that he played in supporting our organization and the entire San Diego region.

After building an enormously successful business career out of humble beginnings, Conrad became one of the most important philanthropists in the United States.

His legacy of giving to Scripps included a $10 million donation in 2006 to support the construction of the new Conrad Prebys Emergency and Trauma Center at Scripps Mercy Hospital in San Diego. That was followed in 2011 with a $45 million donation to build the Prebys Cardiovascular Institute on the campus of Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. That gift remains the largest donation to our not-for-profit health system in its history.

Conrad had a deep desire to help people during their darkest hours of illness by providing comfort and hope.

 “To shorten a man’s suffering, to extend their happy life, what more can you do in the world? This is the legacy I would like to leave.” Those were Conrad’s words. And, without a doubt, he fulfilled that legacy through years of philanthropy that will benefit patients and others in our community for generations to come.

Conrad Prebys was more than a generous Scripps supporter – he was our patient and our friend. We were all touched by his kindness, his enthusiasm for life and his deep humanity. Our warmest thoughts and prayers go out to Debbie Turner, his partner in life and in his mission to give back to the community he loved.

Statement from Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute:

The scientists and staff at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute are saddened to hear of the passing of our namesake Conrad Prebys and we send his family and friends our sincere condolences.

“Conrad was an extraordinarily generous man and we are privileged to have been a recipient of his thoughtful and giving spirit, which touched all parts of San Diego,” said Perry Nisen, CEO.

Conrad said, “Everyone deserves a chance to live life, a long life, a healthy life.”

“His most recent gift to our Institute will help fulfill his belief in Sanford Burnham Prebys and his commitment to medical discoveries for future generations,” said Kristiina Vuori, President.

Thank you Conrad for believing in us. We’ve lost a great friend of our Institute. 

Statement from San Diego State University:

The San Diego State University community is saddened to hear of the loss of Conrad Prebys. Upon hearing the news, SDSU president Elliot Hirshman made the following statement.

"Conrad Prebys was a great man and a great spirit. He touched and ennobled everyone he met. His contagious optimism and selfless generosity have forever changed our campus and the entire San Diego region. His name and his legacy will live on at San Diego State University in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union, the thousands of students who will receive Conrad Prebys’ scholarships, the Conrad Prebys Center for Viromics Research and the Conrad Prebys Chair for Bio-medical Research. The entire San Diego State University community mourns the loss of a treasured friend and supporter."

Categories: Local San Diego News