Richard Jacobson

A longtime Mayo Clinic patient matches his optimism for the future of patient care with a generous gift

By Mayo Clinic Staff

"It's going to be fantastic," Richard Jacobson says, anticipating the ways Mayo Clinic will transform medicine to help patients.

Sunday evening is generally a quiet time at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. And for Richard Jacobson it provided an opportunity to pause and plan, and to imagine the future.

Mr. Jacobson often came to Rochester from his home in Des Moines, Iowa, on the day before his medical appointments were to begin on Monday morning. This schedule provided respite from the demands of his business and time to reflect on how he might invest in helping other people. "Having to fast on Sunday night gives a person plenty of time to think," he says.

"I'd walk around the campus, seeing these beautiful buildings, and think of all the good work that goes on here."

The inspiration that Mr. Jacobson felt during those Sunday walks is transforming Mayo Clinic and setting a powerful new direction in medicine.

In 2010, Mr. Jacobson gave $100 million to Mayo Clinic just as plans were underway to establish the Mayo Clinic Proton Beam Therapy Program and build new facilities in Rochester and Phoenix. To honor Mr. Jacobson's transformative gift, Mayo Clinic will name the Rochester facility in his honor.

"My dream has always been to establish a major new facility at Mayo Clinic," says Mr. Jacobson. "By supporting Mayo, you help people throughout the country and around the world."

A mission with Mayo

The man whose philanthropy is shaping the future of medicine has a long family history with Mayo Clinic.

"I was always healthy, but got the typical kid's illnesses," Mr. Jacobson recalls. "When I was 6, my mother called Dr. Chuck Mayo for his personal recommendation about what to do. She listened to what he had to say and then replied, 'Fine. We'll see you at 10 tomorrow.' That was her sense of determination. The next day, Dad loaded up the spare tires in our car — tires were always blowing out back then — and we made the 120-mile drive to Rochester. And Dr. Mayo saw me at 10, not because I was so important or even that sick, but because he didn't want to tangle with my mother."

Ruby Jacobson passed away when her son was a boy, but her spark and drive stayed with him. After the University of Iowa, service in the Army and several years getting started in business, he founded Jacobson Warehouse Company with $3,500 and two employees. That was in 1968. In the years that followed, this organization and a consortium of the Jacobson Companies became national leaders, recognized for excellence in customer service and employee satisfaction.

Now retired, Mr. Jacobson still clips coupons, pumps his own gas and can tell you the exact mileage that his car gets. He's a regular at church on Sunday.

When asked who inspired him, Mr. Jacobson answers carefully. "There've been so many people along the way. I can't give you names because I don't want to risk leaving someone out. But I can tell you that each one had a lasting impact on me."

He has received checkups and care at Mayo for more than half a century. This loyalty, built on a strong foundation of values, resonates with Mr. Jacobson's view of Mayo Clinic.

"Mayo is an incredibly well-oiled piece of machinery," he says. This is high praise from a man who built his career in industry. "I've met hundreds of people at Mayo, and they're all top-quality professionals."

The human element

At age 40, less than a decade after starting his business from scratch, he established the Richard O. Jacobson Foundation, which provides wide-ranging support for medical, humanitarian and educational programs. "It's all about changing lives," he explains, "working with organizations that help the most people in the most effective way."

He established an endowed professorship in molecular medicine at Mayo Clinic and is excited by the technology that makes proton beam therapy so effective in fighting cancer.

Yet he always keeps sight of the human element. For instance, during the press conference announcing his $100 million gift, Mr. Jacobson noticed a young man from a local newspaper. "He almost got run over with everything going on. There he was, all by himself. So I went up to him and started talking. We had a good visit. That guy could have been me. Talking to him was the highlight of my day."

There will be more highlights to come, especially for the patients who find new hope from the advancements in medicine Mr. Jacobson makes possible at Mayo Clinic. Looking ahead with characteristic optimism, he says, "It's going to be fantastic."