Robert M. "Bob" Arnold knows the personal cost of cancer: He lost his mother, father and brother to the disease. He also knows the financial costs associated with finding a cure. To help speed the development of lifesaving breakthroughs, Arnold has added a new chapter to his family's legacy of support for Fred Hutchinson with an unprecedented gift of $15 million.
Dr. Lee Hartwell, center president and director, announced the contribution — the single-largest private gift in the center's history — at a Feb. 11 news conference at The Westin Seattle.
"We are extremely grateful for Bob's large-hearted donation," Hartwell said. "He has been a faithful friend to the center for many years. His gift is unrestricted, which means he trusts us with the decision of how best to utilize the funds. Whether it's recruiting the best scientists or supporting innovative directions in research, Bob's generosity will have a major impact on our work."
Arnold said the gift honors the priorities of his late mother, Seattle philanthropist Grace Heffernan Arnold. "Helping research was so important to my mother," Arnold said. "Over the years, it's carried great weight for my entire family. I can't think of a better way to give tribute to my mother than by supporting Fred Hutchinson. I believe wholeheartedly in the cutting-edge work the center is doing to cure cancer and other diseases."
The family includes Arnold's daughters, Grace Arnold, of Rancho Santa Fe, Calif.; and Lauren Arnold Gorter, of Chicago; along with Lauren's husband, David Gorter, and their sons, Christopher and Taylor.
The Arnold family has always admired gifting. "I'm gratified that I'm in a position to present this donation, to put something back into the community that has been so good to my family, and to benefit others not as fortunate," Arnold said. "I have a responsibility to teach the next generation of my family about the absolute importance of giving back to the community. It's their responsibility to step up and continue our family's tradition of giving."
The legacy of Grace
The Arnold family's generosity dates back years before the center opened. Arnold's parents, Lawrence Arnold and Grace Heffernan Arnold, were close friends of center founder Dr. William Hutchinson.
Heffernan Arnold was a longtime advocate of the Pacific Northwest Research Foundation (PNRF) — a precursor to Fred Hutchinson — founded by Hutchinson in 1955. Known today as the Pacific Northwest Research Institute, PNRF was the first, private, nonprofit biomedical research organization in the Northwest.
The Arnold family was instrumental in helping Hutchinson and PNRF launch Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in 1972. "Grace was very much a part of the establishment of the PNRF and was president of the board. She was really the catalyst that made it all happen," said William Hutchinson's daughter, Charlotte Hutchinson Reed, a member of the center's foundation board of directors and a former trustee. "She was a truly beautiful lady in every sense of the word, and Lawrence was a magnificent man. My father was so lucky to have them as his supporters. I don't think any of this would have happened without their support."
Robert M. Arnold, a retired banking executive and Seattle native, has a long history of assisting the center with both his time and money. Following his father's death in 1976, he succeeded the elder Arnold on Fred Hutchinson's board of trustees, on which he served until 1993. He was appointed as a founding member of the center's Senior Council that year and continues to serve in that capacity. He has been giving to Fred Hutchinson since 1961; in 1991, he donated $250,000 for the first phase of the center's capital campaign. The center subsequently named its library in the family's honor, and today the Arnold Library continues to serve Fred Hutchinson scientists and others around the world.
"In his leadership role, Bob understands that running one of the most prestigious medical-research facilities in the nation, with its world-class scientists and state-of-the-art technology, carries a significant price tag," said Carl Behnke, chair of Fred Hutchinson's board of trustees. "His magnanimous gift will provide seed money to fuel new research and help millions of patients and families worldwide."
An extension of the Arnold family's support, the Grace Heffernan Arnold Guild was formed in 1975 by a group of Grace's friends in her honor. It is one of 15 volunteer groups now supporting the center. From its first event — a small dinner party — the Arnold Guild's efforts have evolved into the Hutch Holiday Gala. The gala is Fred Hutchinson's most lucrative annual event and one of the largest fund-raising events in the country. The Arnold Guild has helped raise more than $41 million to date to support the center's biomedical research and programs for patients and their families. Robert M. Arnold was the recipient of the guild's 1994 community-service award. For the past five years, he has served as an honorary gala trustee.
Also an active patron of the arts, Arnold has provided leadership and funding for many groups, including the Seattle Art Museum, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Opera Association and the King County Arts Commission. He also was a founding member and past president of PONCHO, a local arts-funding organization.
As a brick-and-mortar testimony to Arnold's generosity and his family's decades of support, the Public Health Sciences Division facility will be named the Robert M. Arnold Building at a ceremony later this spring. Although Arnold said he is appreciative of the honor, such attention isn't what drives his altruism. "I'm not interested in a lot of fanfare," he said. "I really want the focus to be on the center and its work. Fred Hutchinson is a jewel in the crown of the community because of its scientific excellence, and it is my privilege to present this gift."