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Philanthropist Cecil Green dies at 102

The Green Building at MIT
The Green Building at MIT
Cecil Green speaking at the dedication of the Green Building in 1964.
Cecil Green speaking at the dedication of the Green Building in 1964.

Cecil H. Green (S.B. and S.M. 1924), a worldwide philanthropist whose family name graces the tallest building on the MIT campus as well as a women's residence hall and nine endowed professorships, died on April 11 of complications from pneumonia at the age of 102.

He died at his residence in a hospital he endowed, the Scripps Green Hospital in La Jolla, Calif.

Green and his late wife, Ida, over four decades donated $31,752,759 to MIT, equal to more than $91 million in today's dollars. The New York Times obituary reported that their philanthropy totaled $200 million.

MIT President Charles M. Vest commented, "Cecil and Ida Green were two of the most extraordinary philanthropists in the world. They created facilities and endowed programs in education, science, medicine, social services and the arts at universities and medical centers throughout this country, England, Canada and Chile. Their contributions to MIT were vitally important in many fields. They were especially supportive of women graduate students and faculty."

There are buildings named after the Greens at MIT, the University of British Columbia, Stanford, Scripps Health Center in La Jolla, University of California at San Diego, the Colorado School of Mines, the University of Texas Dallas, Southwest Medical Center, Baylor University, the National Research Council in Washington, D.C., and at the Magellan Telescope in Chile. In England, Green's philanthropy was responsible for the establishment of Green College at Oxford University.

At MIT, the Greens provided major funding for the 295-foot-tall Cecil H. and Ida F. Green Center for Earth Sciences, designed by I.M. Pei, and the Ida Flansburgh Green Hall for graduate women. A major renovation in the department of physics will be named The Cecil H. and Ida F. Green Center for Physics.

The Greens endowed six full MIT professorships--two in physics, two in earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences (EAPS), one in electrical engineering and computer science (EECS), and one in education. In addition, junior faculty members are appointed to three career development chairs (one in EAPS and two Institute-wide) for three-year terms.

David Pritchard and Jeffrey Goldstone currently hold the physics chairs while Bradford Hager and Carl Wunsch have the EAPS appointments. Funds for the education chair, held by Margaret MacVicar at the time of her death, have been used to support the MacVicar Faculty Fellowship program.

Green co-founded Texas Instruments, Inc. in 1951 and amassed a fortune by the time he retired in 1975. After that, he devoted his life to giving away the fortune.

"The idea is to get down to my last nickel before I die," he said in the 1990s. Their list of contributions requires 18 pages in "Cecil and Ida Green, Philanthropists Extraordinary," the 1989 biography written by their good friend Robert R. Shrock, the late MIT professor of geology.

The Green Building was dedicated on Oct. 2, 1964. Eugene McDermott, one of the original partners in Texas Instruments, commissioned his Stevens Tech classmate, Alexander Calder, to create "The Big Sail," a sculpture that faces the Green Building on McDermott Court. McDermott was a longtime member of the MIT Corporation.

Born in Manchester, England, on Aug. 6, 1900, Green moved to Canada as an infant and on to San Francisco in 1905, where his father was a cable car operator. Shortly after the 1906 earthquake, the family moved to Vancouver, B.C., where Green, an only child, grew up.

He attended the University of British Columbia before going to MIT. At MIT he received the S.B. and S.M. in electrical engineering, and is listed as a member of the Class of 1923. Green sold neon lighting, automobiles and insurance before he began his engineering career in 1924 at General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y., where he met Ida Mabelle Flansburgh. They were married two years later.

Green traveled to Saudi Arabia in 1930 with an oil exploration crew for Geophysical Services in Dallas, a pioneer in digital analysis of seismic records. With three partners, Green bought the company on Dec. 6, 1941, the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Geophysical Services, which made submarine detection devices and radar during World War II, became Texas Instruments in 1951. The next year, it entered the semiconductor business and produced the first pocket-sized transistor radio in 1954. Green was president of Texas Instruments from 1951 to 1955.

Aside from philanthropy, the Greens' passion was travel. They visited the Middle East, Central and South America, Hong Kong and Europe together. After Mrs. Green died in 1986, he traveled alone to Australia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa and China. The Greens had no children and there are no survivors.

Green was elected to the MIT Corporation in 1958 and became a life member in 1975.

In 1990, Green became the first American citizen to be named an honorary member of the Chinese Geophysical Society by the Republic of China. The next year, Queen Elizabeth II made him Sir Cecil Green as an honorary Knight of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

A memorial service was held April 17 at St. James-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in La Jolla. Burial was private.

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