Editorial: Dole chief’s generosity welcome in lean times

May. 09, 2013 @ 07:50 PM

It would seem David Murdock hasn’t lost the sense of how important it is to give back to the world.

On Wednesday, The Herald-Sun’s Laura Oleniacz reported, the Dole Food Company chairman – a man worth $2.4 billion and ranked by Forbes as the 190th richest person – announced he’s pledging $50 million to fund a namesake research lab at the North Carolina Research Campus in Kannapolis.

His generous support comes at a critical time, as sequestration cuts put the squeeze on funding from federal agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health, and state budget proposals call for cutting dollars to our research universities.

The research lab focuses on fighting and preventing diseases through improved health, agriculture and food.

Since 2007, he has invested more than $131 million in the David H. Murdock Research Institute.

He’s eager to see results, though.

“I have felt the results were too slow in coming,” Murdock said, “so I’m pushing, pushing. Let’s make some major discoveries.”

The lab’s benefactor, now 90, has come a long way from his days in Detroit after World War II when, according to a BBC podcast, he was homeless and destitute. But a good samaritan gave Murdock money to buy a diner, which he sold for a profit less than a year later.

Despite the wealth that he has amassed over the years, Murdock still seems relatively humble and grounded. He doesn’t pitch himself as the smartest guy in the room. Quite the contrary.

“So I find that associating with the kind of brains at the head table and the kinds of brains in the audience kinda makes up for my lack of brains, because I can always lean on them, and they have all the knowledge that I don’t have,” he said. “And so I agglomerate all of us together for the good of mankind.”

No matter what he says, though, he remains shrewd for a high-school dropout and generous in the midst of an economic downturn that might dissuade others.

And while the recession certainly slowed Murdock down, it didn’t dampen his affinity for North Carolina or scientific research.

“Every time they say ‘I want some money’ in some other state,’ I sort of shrink back and say, ‘We only have money for North Carolina,’” he said.

The 16 partners in the research institute, including Duke University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, are surely grateful for that sentiment.

Now, let’s hope that funding leads to those major discoveries.