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A Slam Dunk

L.A. Lakers owner gives $7.5 million to chemistry department.

By Nicole St. Pierre
January 1, 2008

A Slam Dunk

 

Before becoming a major player in the competitive worlds of California real estate and professional sports, Jerry Buss (Ph.D., chemistry, ‘57), chairman and majority owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, could be found wearing a white lab coat and safety goggles.

He was a chemist for the Bureau of Mines, worked briefly in the aerospace industry and was on the faculty of USC College’s chemistry department. His first venture into real estate — a $1,000 investment in a West Los Angeles apartment building — was initially only intended to provide income so he could pursue his love of teaching. Ultimately, Buss was able to parlay this investment into assets that 20 years later enabled him to achieve ownership of a major-league sports team.

Now Dr. Buss, an inaugural member of the USC College Board of Councilors, is sharing the fruits of his hard work through a $7.5 million planned gift to support chemistry education and research. Buss’ gift will name, and eventually fund, two endowed chairs in the Department of Chemistry and an endowed scholarship fund for chemistry graduate students.

Buss named the two endowed chairs in honor of his mentors, friends and former USC chemistry professors, Sidney Benson and David Dows.

“As an academician and a person, Sidney Benson was a model to aspire to; to emulate; and, to a young student, a little intimidating. A young professor himself at the time, David Dows gave me the encouragement to continue and to succeed. I am indebted to both,” Buss said.

Buss, who once said, “education gives you freedom,” grew up in the coal mining region of Kemmerer, Wyo. He worked to put himself through the University of Wyoming in two and half years, graduating in 1953 with a Bachelor of Science in chemistry. He went on to get an M.S. in chemistry from USC College, and, at age 24, completed his Ph.D.

While Buss doesn’t use his knowledge of chemistry on a day-to-day basis, completing his Ph.D. in chemistry imparted lasting confidence to succeed in other facets of his life. “In any science, you're taught to think logically, and that process has certainly helped me throughout my life,” Buss said.

Buss is a devoted member of the Trojan Family with two children who graduated from USC.

“Talented faculty and exceptional postdoctoral programs, that is what will propel our College to the next level of excellence,” said Howard Gillman, dean of USC College. ”It is gratifying to see someone who has achieved an extraordinary level of success remain so profoundly inspired by his former professors and the fundamental importance of our research and teaching mission. Because of his commitment, USC will be in a better position to push the boundaries of human knowledge forward, and train the next generation of great scientists.”

The Buss bequest is comprised of five separate gifts. Two of the gifts were established as charitable gift annuities to provide income to named beneficiaries. The other three were established as charitable remainder unitrusts to be invested in the USC endowment pool — a new investment vehicle that USC began offering in January 2007. USC is one of only a limited number of universities nationwide to offer this investment option. Buss is the first to establish a charitable remainder unitrust using this investment vehicle at USC.