UCSF med school gets $48M from mysterious donor

March 1, 2011 7:31:08 PM PST
This week, University of California, San Francisco's medical school announced the largest bequest in the school's history -- $48 million. The giver is something of a mystery woman.

At UCSF's medical school there is a lab named for Nina Ireland. Now she has left the school $48 million for pulmonary research and care. Yet when the university made that announcement this week, they had to admit they do not have a single picture of her.

Dr. Jeff Golden treated her chronic lung disease. He is now in charge of the $48 million that Ireland left to the hospital's pulmonary unit.

"This is relatively new news to us, so we're actually, we've formed committees to carefully discuss how we make the most of such a wonderful opportunity," Golden said.

Golden has a personal picture of Ireland, but there are not any others on the Internet or much of anything about her beyond her death notice and reports of her extraordinary bequest. Of the seven people who signed the online memorial, most were people who worked for her.

"She was profoundly private," dog groomer Deborah Kent said.

Kent went to Ireland's home once a month for more than decade.

"She lived a pretty isolated life, she did, but I felt so privileged when I think about it and you ask me these questions I never regarded her so much like that because I went to her house every month; she was my friend," Kent said.

Born and raised in Birmingham, Ireland was heir to a fortune from a huge asphalt company founded by her grandfather.

She bought the Flyshaker estate in Pacific Heights, one of the most famous homes in the city. But she shunned society.

The person who spent the most time with her was her full-time gardener.

"As long as I knew her she lived alone and chose to do so," Richard Darrough said.

In the end, Nina Ireland was a very private person who made a very big statement by leaving her entire estate to the medical center and the doctors who cared for her.

"I think we'll take this opportunity and run with it and make Nina Ireland as proud of us as we can," Golden said.


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