May 7, 2024 - News

San Diego community leader and philanthropist Joan Jacobs dies

Irwin and Joan Jacobs at a gala.

Irwin and Joan Jacobs at a gala concert dinner in 2018 in New York City. Photo: Krista Kennell/Patrick McMullan via Getty Image

San Diego community leader and philanthropist Joan Jacobs died Monday at age 91.

The big picture: For decades, Jacobs and her husband Irwin, a co-founder of Qualcomm, donated hundreds of millions of dollars to institutions and causes that have shaped the arts, science, education and media in San Diego, the Union-Tribune reported.

  • They were original signers of the "Giving Pledge," a campaign for America's wealthiest people to "give the majority of their wealth to address some of society's most pressing problems," but most of the couple's donations stayed local.

Zoom in: After years of quietly donating, the Jacobs made news with a historic $120 million pledge to the San Diego Symphony in 2002 that provided lasting stability.

  • At the time, the Union-Tribune described the couple as "movers and shakers who avoid the limelight, cultural supporters who don't flaunt their clout."
  • They later made $100 million gifts to UC San Diego's Jacobs School of Engineering and to the Jacobs Medical Center — home to The Joan K. Jacobs Healing Arts Collection that features 150 pieces, many by internationally known artists.
  • Jacobs' legacy will also carry on at "The Joan," the nickname for the theater at their namesake performing arts center opening at Liberty Station.

Flashback: Joan and Irwin met at Cornell University and in 1966 moved to La Jolla, where Irwin was a founding faculty member at UCSD.

Other beneficiaries of the Jacobs' generosity include: San Diego's Central Library, the La Jolla Playhouse, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the Salk Institute, KPBS, Voice of San Diego and other organizations.

What they're saying: "[Grandma Joan] showed me that I could be feminine and win an argument, I could be a wife and mother and grandmother and also a leader, and I could chart my own path in life while still remembering and giving back to my community," her granddaughter Rep. Sara Jacobs said in a statement.

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