Sanford I. Weill, His Wife Donate $185 Million to U.C. San Francisco

Sanford I. Weill, His Wife Donate $185 Million to U.C. San Francisco

SAN FRANCISCO — Over the last four decades, Sanford I. Weill has been known for his huge donations to East Coast institutions, including his alma mater, Cornell University.

Now Mr. Weill, the former Citigroup chairman, plans to step up his philanthropy on the West Coast, where he and his wife, Joan, now spend much of their time.

On Tuesday, the Weills plan to announce that they have given $185 million to the University of California, San Francisco to finance a new center for neuroscience research.

The school, which specializes in health sciences, is roughly 80 miles south of the Tuscan-style estate in Sonoma, Calif., that the couple bought in 2010 and where their working vineyard produces wine under the name Weill a Way.

The gift to the U.C.S.F., the biggest ever to the school, is also among the biggest ever by the Weills, who have sought over the years to make themselves known at least as much for their philanthropy as for Mr. Weill’s business achievements.

“Research on the brain, which is the most complex part of the human body, is far behind” work done in other areas of medicine, Mr. Weill said in an interview in Sonoma. “We’ve always liked to support the underdog.”

Brain science has been enjoying fresh attention from philanthropists and investors, particularly in light of the Obama administration’s announcement in 2013 of a 10-year effort to build a comprehensive map of the human brain, in the hope of advancing the fight against diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

With the newest donation, the Weills — who have signed the Giving Pledge, the drive created by Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates for the world’s richest to donate most of their wealth to philanthropy — have now pledged more than $1 billion to charitable causes.

The donation is also the biggest gift yet by the Weills outside their longtime home in New York, as they spend more time in the Bay Area. They have donated to institutions in their new second home, including $12 million to Sonoma State University for a concert hall.

Donations to medical causes are nothing new to the couple. Among their most prominent causes is Weill Cornell Medical College, Cornell’s medical school. Over the years, the Weills have given more than half a billion dollars to Weill Cornell, where Mr. Weill, 83, effectively led the board for two decades. Only in late 2014 did he cede that role — to his daughter, Jessica Bibliowicz.

The target of their latest gift isn’t lacking for donations. Roughly 3 percent of U.C.S.F.’s revenue comes from state funds; the bulk comes from grants by the National Institutes of Health or from private donors like Marc Benioff, the founder of Salesforce.com.

To the Weills, backing research in neuroscience hits home. Mr. Weill said that his mother died of Alzheimer’s disease, and his father had symptoms of depression. Friends of the Weills have been afflicted with other disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease.

“When people had a mental illness, there was a stigma attached,” Ms. Weill said, adding that it was important that such disorders be treated as medical diseases.

Giving to U.C.S.F., one of the top-ranked neuroscience research centers in the United States, seems to have been part of a natural progression: Since last year, Mr. Weill has been the chairman of the school’s executive council, a group that has helped the institution think about its long-term strategy.

The money is intended to underpin an ambitious research effort. Their gift will help pay for a new 270,000-square-foot building at the university’s Mission Bay campus that will house the neuroscience initiative. It is meant to emphasize what Mr. Weill called “bench-to-bedside” work, from laboratory research to patient care.

“It will remove the completely artificial boundaries that we in academia use,” Sam Hawgood, U.C.S.F.’s chancellor, said of the donation. “It will transform and be a beacon for other programs in the country.”

Yet giving to U.C.S.F. doesn’t mean that Mr. Weill plans to abandon his longstanding ties to Weill Cornell. The two schools will begin an annual neuroscience symposium that will alternate between them.

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