The events leading to the creation of the Buck Institute represent one of the most highly-publicized chapters in American philanthropy. When Beryl Hamilton Buck died in 1975, she left most of her estate (at the time thought to be worth $11 - $12 million) to The San Francisco Foundation, to be expended for charitable purposes in Marin County. While giving the Foundation broad discretion for expenditures, she repeatedly identified three “uses and purposes” she considered worthy; one of these was “to extend help towards the problems of the aged, not only the indigent but those whose resources cannot begin to provide adequate care.” By the time probate closed in 1979, the value of the Buck estate had increased to $262 million by reason of the sale of Belridge Oil, a closely-held corporation owning the nation’s largest private oil reserves.
In 1984, The San Francisco Foundation filed suit to break the Marin-only restriction of the trust. In March 1985, two separate events occurred which were inspired by Mrs. Buck’s desire to extend help toward the problems of the aged and which foreshadowed creation of the Buck Institute. In a speech to the Commonwealth Club, a Marin County Supervisor proposed resolving the dispute by using half of the estate to create a new research center in Marin focused on Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related medical conditions. And in response to the trial judge’s call for settlement proposals, Mrs. Buck’s executor, John Elliot Cook, proposed creation of a free-standing research institute on aging in Marin County.
In preparing the case for trial during 1985, Mr. Cook’s attorney, Mary McEachron, enlisted eminent gerontologist John W. Rowe, MD, from Harvard Medical School to convene a panel of renowned experts in aging to consider the feasibility and scope of such a center.
The seven-member panel recommended creation of an institute which would bring together distinguished scientists from diverse fields all focused on research with the greatest potential to extend the healthy years of life. The scientific advisors challenged the new institute to “become the preeminent research institute in aging, establish for itself a national reputation and contribute significantly to our ability to reduce disability and dependency in later life.”
Litigation settled in 1986 after a six-month trial, with the Marin Community Foundation appointed successor trustee to The San Francisco Foundation, and with a decision to select three “Major Projects” to share 20% of the annual income from the Buck Trust. At the request of Mr. Cook, the “Buck Institute on Aging” was incorporated in November 1986. For nearly a year, Mary McEachron worked to mobilize public support for selection of the Buck Institute as a Major Project, and in August 1987 – with endorsements from numerous community and governmental organizations and thousands of individuals – the Marin Superior Court selected the Institute to receive 15% of the net income from Beryl Buck’s estate in perpetuity.
Two years later, the Buck purchased a 488-acre parcel of undeveloped land on Mt. Burdell in Novato and selected internationally-acclaimed architect I.M Pei to design its facilities. Despite vigorous efforts by opponents of animal research to stop the project, construction began in 1996 and the Institute opened its doors in August 1999. The Buck Institute thus became the first research center in the country to fulfill the challenge of a 1991 National Academy of Science report calling for establishment of at least ten centers of excellence focused exclusively on aging research.
Throughout this period, an international Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) provided advice on the initial scientific plan. In 1998, with the SAB’s recommendation and after a nationwide search, Dale E. Bredesen, MD, a distinguished Alzheimer’s investigator, was chosen as the Institute’s founding President & CEO. Five initial faculty members were recruited, the first of many appointments that enlarged the scientific faculty to its present size of 17. In June 2010, Brian K. Kennedy, PhD, a renowned aging research specialist on the faculty at the University of Washington in Seattle, was named the second President & CEO of the Buck Institute after an extensive international search process.
As of June 30, 2010, the value of the Buck Trust had grown to over $700 million, generating an annual income for the Institute of approximately $6 million per year.
For details on our scientific achievements and growth, go to our timeline.