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John Arrillaga

John Arrillaga's $151 million gift to Stanford is only the latest in a long history of extraordinary contributions to the university. The gift is the university's largest ever from a living donor.

Generosity Begets Generosity

John Arrillaga, '60, has made a gift of $151 million to the university. His daughter, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, '92, MBA '97, MA '98, MA '99, discusses what's behind his decades of generosity.


Fall 2013

Generosity is a gift that keeps on giving—so many of the gifts we receive in life turn us into givers. In no one do I see this principle more powerfully demonstrated than in my extraordinary father, John Arrillaga Sr. More than 50 years after becoming the recipient of someone else's generosity—through a Stanford scholarship—my father has made a $151 million gift to Stanford University, its largest ever from a living donor.

Now among Silicon Valley's most active real estate developers, my father grew up in Inglewood, Calif., as one of five children. He could only attend Stanford because a generous individual believed in supporting the potential of an unknown young person. His tuition athlete-scholarship did not cover living expenses, so while meeting his basketball and academic requirements, he held six jobs, from washing dishes to delivering mail and working as a gardener. Meanwhile, he achieved stellar grades in his major and became an All-American basketball player.

Athletics creates strong family bonds. My father attended every basketball game, tennis match, and softball or baseball game in which my brother, John Jr., '92, MBA '98, and I played as kids. Today, he rarely misses a Stanford home basketball or football game—often accompanied by his lovely wife, Gioia (who could easily win Top Chef, but is too busy cheering on the Cardinal).

My father's giving story begins with his first gift to Stanford—a two-figure donation made just after he graduated. He gave what he could at the time, and even then the gift was a stretch financially.

A few years later, he met my late mother, Frances, another Stanford graduate (MA '64, MA '65) and a sixth-grade teacher in the Palo Alto Unified School District. They fell madly in love, married, and began a family life. Their partnership of service and generosity spread to the university that had educated them (including my father's endowed scholarships that help nearly 50 students attend Stanford each year), as well as to the Silicon Valley community in which my father generated our family's financial resources.

However, my father's gifts have not only been financial. As importantly, he has applied his vast knowledge of architecture, construction, landscape design, real estate, and project management to all his philanthropic projects, making the most of everything he has to give.

With his vision and expertise, he identifies unmet needs and enhances the physical infrastructure. Over the past five decades, he has constructed and contributed to more than 150 buildings and other projects at Stanford, including the Frances C. Arrillaga Alumni Center (honoring my late mother's own Stanford service), the Arrillaga Family Dining Commons, the Graduate Community Center, the Physics and Astrophysics Building, the Arrillaga Center for Sports & Recreation, and yards upon yards of COR-TEN steel fencing. He has also financed and built dozens of building projects for the Silicon Valley nonprofit community.

Of course, in financial terms he is extraordinarily generous. Perhaps driven by the competitive spirit that led him to All-American basketball fame, he is constantly out-giving himself, and his new gift to Stanford is no exception. It is his second nine-figure donation—the first was also at the time Stanford's largest gift from a living donor.

But for my father, writing a check is not enough. He sees philanthropy as marrying financial resources with intellectual, network, and human capital.

As part of making his first nine-figure gift to Stanford, he led the construction of the university's state-of-the-art football stadium—completed under budget and in just 42 weeks' time. He made high-level decisions on stadium design and landscaping while paying attention to detail, overseeing 24-hour construction crews, picking out every tree, selecting seat materials, and tasting countless hot dogs before choosing which brand to serve.

My father is my philanthropic hero. He and my late mother were born with the giving gene—precious DNA they shared with my brother and me. In fact, my father's philanthropy was a primary inspiration behind the $27.5 million my husband, Marc Andreessen, and I gave to Stanford Hospital in 2006 to fund a new Emergency Department.

And while my father taught me many important lessons (including always picking up any trash you see on a university or nonprofit campus), two stand out: Give as much as you possibly can and give equally from among your resources—time, mind, and money. These are principles I follow every day.

My father embodies humility, service, and generosity. But one of the most exciting things about his philanthropy is that it's impossible to tell where it will lead. Who knows what will emerge from my father's latest gift—how many athletes, scientists, politicians, business leaders, and community pioneers will use their Stanford education to enhance our society? How many will graduate as philanthropists with a mission to change the world because of his example?

In his generosity to Stanford University, my beloved father has therefore created a remarkable gift—one that, far, far into the future, will keep on giving.

Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, '92, MBA '97, MA '98, MA '99, is a lecturer in philanthropy at Stanford Graduate School of Business, a lecturer in public policy at Stanford, and founder and chairman of the Stanford Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society.