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San Diego Mourns Passing of Beloved Philanthropist Joan Jacobs

San Diego Mourns Passing of Beloved Philanthropist Joan Jacobs

Hundreds attend a tribute to Joan Jacobs at the Rady Shell in Jacobs Park on May 13, 2024. (Jie Yang/The Epoch Times)

Kimberly Hayek

Kimberly Hayek

5/15/2024

Updated: 5/15/2024

In San Diego’s Marina District on Monday, on a gray day typical for the region in May, more than 600 people gathered for 2 hours before the Rady Shell at Jacobs Park to celebrate the life of beloved local philanthropist Joan Jacobs. She passed away last week at the age of 91.
Hugs, tears, and laughter filled the memorial as Mrs. Jacobs was remembered for her “unwavering commitment to make the world a better place.” The first speakers were Jacobs’ four sons–Gary, Hal, Paul, and Jeff–with their wives at their side. Fourteen grandchildren stood side by side on stage while some of them remembered their grandmother.
Granddaughter Jess Jacobs recalled her grandmother’s love for the arts, and how it influenced her to pursue a career in art.
“I learned to see the world through Joan’s eyes, which meant seeing an understanding through the lens of art and culture,” she said.
A brief musical interlude followed. Mrs. Jacobs’ friends then spoke about her life. They were followed by the San Diego Symphony, which the Jacobs’ saved with a $100 million donation unprecedented in the history of music philanthropy.
UCSD Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla was followed by numerous CEOs and executives of organizations to which the Jacobses had donated, including the symphony, La Jolla Contemporary Arts, La Jolla Playhouse, La Jolla Music Society, and others.
There were stories of mischief, humanizing the powerhouse couple whose name appears at nearly every important institution in San Diego. As reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, Mrs. Jacobs filled UC San Diego Health’s Jacobs Medical Center with art, including Jeff Koons’ massive “Party Hat (Orange).”
When Mrs. Jacobs and her husband Irwin Jacobs, co-founder of Qualcomm, sneaked inside to watch the art piece’s installation during the height of the pandemic, security reported the incident to Patty Maysent, CEO of UC San Diego Health.
“What am I supposed to do, kick them out?” she quipped at the memorial.
With his four sons behind him, Irwin Jacobs remembers his wife at the Rady Shell in Jacobs Park on May 13, 2024. (Jie Yang/The Epoch Times)

With his four sons behind him, Irwin Jacobs remembers his wife at the Rady Shell in Jacobs Park on May 13, 2024. (Jie Yang/The Epoch Times)

Mr. Jacobs closed the program, detailing some of the intimate final moments with his wife at the hospital, describing how his wife loved a red dress she had worn on her 91st birthday. At the end of her life, she wanted to wear it again.
“She left us in her red dress and it will be with her forever,” he said.
It was the same bright “tropical red” as the Rady Shell seats where the memorial’s attendees were seated–the color she had chosen.
Four years after being diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis in December 2019, Mrs. Jacobs died late May 6 at Jacobs Medical Center.
Mrs. Jacobs and her husband have been tireless philanthropists whose name adorns prominent buildings across San Diego, including at UCSD, where Irwin was a founding faculty member.
Their impact has been felt far outside San Diego. The couple, who were married for 70 years, donated to many universities, including Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Salk Institute, University of San Diego, and UCSD. They gave to biomedical research, arts, education, advocacy, healthcare, nutrition, and more. Mrs. Jacobs was also a member of the City of San Diego Commission for Arts and Cultures public art committee.
Both she and her husband grew up in Jewish homes in the Northeast. “Our families were philanthropic, but on a very different level,” Mrs. Jacobs once told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “They gave to the local synagogue, but not in any major way. We both came from very humble homes. We’re very fortunate to be able to do what we’re doing now.”
Mrs. Jacobs was born on Jan. 18, 1933, in New York City and graduated from Barnard School for Girls. In 1954, the year she and Irwin were married, she earned a bachelor’s degree in nutritional sciences from Cornell University.
The program cover.

The program cover.

Upon graduation, Mrs. Jacobs worked at the Groton Central Schools outside Ithaca, N.Y., and then at one of the nation’s very first maternity hospitals, Boston Lying-in Hospital, now known as Brigham and Women’s Hospital. She moved with her family to La Jolla in 1966 when Irwin became a founding faculty member of UCSD.
“After four sons, I was my Grandma Joan’s first girl—and she spent every day making sure I knew I was special and loved,” Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-San Diego) wrote in a statement on her grandmother’s passing.
“She pushed me and everyone around her to be the best versions of themselves, and I’m forever grateful for that. She showed me that I could be feminine and win an argument, I could be a wife and mother and grandmother and also a leader, and I could chart my own path in life while still remembering and giving back to my community. I am who I am because I am her granddaughter,” said the congresswoman, who represents San Diego’s 51st Congressional District.
Mrs. Jacobs received numerous honors throughout her life. In 1995, she received the David K. Kroll Leadership Award for exemplary service to the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center of San Diego County, an honorary doctorate in fine arts from the University of Massachusetts in 2008, the Helen Bull Vandervort Award from the College of Human Ecology at Cornell University in 2015, and the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy alongside Irwin in 2018. In 2022, the American Civil Liberties Union named its historic docket of Supreme Court cases after Joan and Irwin, who have been longtime supporters of the ACLU.
The La Jolla Playhouse, in a statement, described Mrs. Jacobs as funny and smart, and said she was a “guiding light on the Playhouse Board for nearly four decades.”
UCSD Chancellor Pradeep Khosla summarized Jacobs’s philanthropy as “a sense of responsibility to society that I have not seen in anybody. It was so unselfish.”
In lieu of flowers, the Jacobs family asks individuals and organizations to donate to the San Diego Symphony, Jewish Family Service, San Diego Food Bank, La Jolla Playhouse, Museum of Contemporary Art, or Lawrence Family Community Center.
Jie Yang contributed to this report.
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