Mourning the loss of James Raisbeck, Hutch supporter and aviation leader

Four Raisbeck endowed chairs continue long legacy of advancing biomedical science
photo of man in tuxedo seated at event table while large room full of people in formal dress smile and clap
James Raisbeck (seated) received a standing ovation after he and his wife, Sherry Raisbeck (right), donated $1 million to Fred Hutch research during the 2019 Hutch Holiday Gala. Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center lost a close friend and supporter with the death of James Raisbeck on Aug. 31. Raisbeck, who was 84, was an aviation industry leader and philanthropist whose passions included education, the arts, aviation education and medical research.

The longstanding relationship between Fred Hutch and Raisbeck and his wife Sherry Raisbeck began in 1996, when the couple’s son-in-law underwent a successful bone marrow transplant under the care of Dr. Fred Appelbaum.

“To show his appreciation, James asked what he could do for the Hutch,” said Appelbaum, who is executive vice president and deputy director of the Hutch and holds the Metcalfe Family/Frederick Appelbaum Endowed Chair in Cancer Research.

Raisbeck and Applebaum also began a lifelong friendship. Appelbaum remembered Raisbeck calling him on New Year’s Eve 1999 from Midway Island. “He wanted to be able to stand on the international date line at midnight to be the last person in the last century and the first in the new one,” Appelbaum said. “That was James. He always remembered his past and he was always looking to the future.”   

Raisbeck’s endowed chairs leave legacy of science

The Raisbecks have had their greatest impact on Hutch research through their support of endowed chairs, including the Hutch’s first. Endowments provide donors an opportunity to establish a lasting legacy, as by design they are sustainable resources that are continually replenished by investment returns.

“James and Sherry have supported Fred Hutch for well over 20 years,” said Hutch President and Director Dr. Thomas J. Lynch Jr., who holds the Raisbeck Endowed Chair. “They hold the unique position of funding an unprecedented four endowed chairs at the Hutch — including my own. My deepest condolences and gratitude to the Raisbeck family for helping move cancer research forward.”

In 2001, the Raisbecks created the the Penny E. Petersen Memorial Chair for Lymphoma Research. The chair honored the couple’s friend Dr. Penny Petersen, who had recently died from lymphoma, while providing the chairholder, the late Dr. Ollie Press, with a flexible source of funds for his research. The chair now supports the work of Dr. Nina Salama, who studies a bacterium linked to stomach cancer and a rare type of lymphoma.

In 2017, the Raisbecks endowed the Raisbeck Chair for Pancreatic Research, which is held by pancreatic cancer expert Dr. Sunil Hingorani.

In 2019, they created the Raisbeck Endowed Chair for Collaborative Research to facilitate collaboration between oncology researchers at Fred Hutch, the University of Washington and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. The chair is held by Dr. Nancy Davidson who is senior vice president and director of the Clinical Research Division at Fred Hutch, professor and head of the Division of Medical Oncology at UW School of Medicine, and president and executive director of SCCA.

Then, in 2020, they created the Raisbeck Endowed Chair for the President and Director to honor outgoing president and director Dr. Gary Gilliland and as a vote of confidence in the Hutch as it welcomed Lynch as the institution’s new leader.

“The enjoyment we experienced directly related to our gifts was huge,” Sherry said.  

In addition to their generous financial backing of Hutch research, the Raisbecks often hosted Hutch donor and scientist gatherings at their home to help raise awareness and additional funding for the Hutch’s work.

Impacts on aviation, education and the arts

Raisbeck was the founder of the aerospace manufacturer Raisbeck Engineering, which researched, developed and manufactured aviation components. Prior to launching his company, he worked for Boeing and Robertson Aircraft and served as a flight engineer in the U.S. Air Force. Raisbeck received numerous aviation awards, including Outstanding Aerospace Engineer Award and the Museum of Flight’s 2007 Pathfinder Award for his vast body of work toward the betterment of the field. 

He and his wife were the driving force in creating Raisbeck Aviation High School, a public high school on the campus of Museum of Flight. They were also supporters of Cornish College of the Arts, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Opera and Seattle Symphony. Seattle’s Hope Heart Institute honored the Raisbecks with its “Wings of Hope” annual award for their leadership in philanthropy, and the couple was named Seattle-King County First Citizens in 2007.  

“He lived a big life, he became the person he wanted to be, and all I can do is to applaud him,” Sherry said, adding, “I am very happy for him.”

photo of Gary Gilliland, Sherry Raisbeck, Fred Appelbaum, James Raisbeck, Nina Salama, Nancy Davidson and Sunil Hingorani
James and Sherry Raisbeck with three of their endowed chairholders and members of Fred Hutch leadership in May 2019. Back row, left to right: Dr. Gary Gilliland, Sherry Raisbeck, Dr. Fred Appelbaum, James Raisbeck. Front, left to right: Drs. Nina Salama, Nancy Davidson, Sunil Hingorani Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch News Service

Lesley Reed is a senior writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center. The award-winning writer, editor and communications strategist specializes in life sciences, global health, philanthropy and advocacy. Reach her at

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