A bequest from the Irma and Norman Switzer estate has created a new fund to advance medicine and health. The unrestricted gift of $50 million to the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA from the estate of Irma and Norman Switzer was announced November 12, 2014, at a gathering of their friends and family, UCLA leadership, faculty, staff members, students and the school’s Board of Visitors.
“This exceptionally generous gift is an enduring legacy of two people who clearly cared about the future of medicine and science,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene D. Block. “The university is honored to be the steward of such a transformative bequest.” As a tribute to the couple, the UCLA Center for Health Sciences Plaza, where the announcement was made, was renamed the Irma and Norman Switzer Plaza.
“The Switzers’ extraordinary gift will immediately strengthen the work of our faculty and eventually benefit countless patients,” said Dr. A. Eugene Washington, vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences, dean of the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and Gerald S. Levey, MD, Endowed Chair.
Norman Switzer passed away in 2011 at the age of 84, and his wife Irma died in 2013 at the age of 93. Longtime residents of Pacific Palisades, California, the couple lived quiet, modest lives. A veteran of the Korean War, Norman Switzer devised the concept of adding benches to bus stops throughout Los Angeles. In exchange for funding the bus benches, the city awarded his company, Norman Bench Advertising, a 20-year exclusive on advertising. The bus-bench advertisements became known in the industry as “Norman Bench Ads.” He later sold the business and became a real-estate investor. Irma Switzer, an accomplished weaver and member of the Palisades Weavers group, physically built three homes in Manhattan Beach with a friend. The couple was involved with the Fowler Museum at UCLA and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County.
Dr. Norman Kumai, a friend of the Switzers who spoke at the gathering, said that Norman liked to invest in people who knew how to fix things, which is the “heart of medicine — repairing people and making discoveries — and by giving to UCLA, he was giving to the guys who ‘fix stuff.’ ”
“The Switzers, who were very humble people, would be gratified to know that the proceeds from their estate are going to advance medicine and health in such a profound way and that this beautiful plaza, through which so many patients, physicians, scientists and students pass on a daily basis, will bear their names,” said Theodore Wolfberg, the Switzers’ attorney and friend.
According to Arlynne Siegel, managing director and Los Angeles regional director of the Personal Trust Department of MUFG Union Bank and Trustee of the Switzers’ Trust, the Switzers’ generosity manifested in many ways, and UCLA’s recognition of their remarkable philanthropy would be the highest honor they could have imagined.
The bequest will count toward The Centennial Campaign for UCLA, a $4.2-billion fundraising campaign, formally launched in May 2014 to commemorate the university’s 100th year.
“The forethought the Switzers demonstrated by including UCLA Health Sciences in their estate plans illustrates the generosity that is their legacy,” said Kathryn Carrico, assistant vice chancellor, UCLA Health Sciences Development.