The swimming community lost one of its great philanthropists on Sunday evening when Warren Hellman passed away in San Francisco at the age of 77 from complications relating to leukemia treatments.
Hellman was a Cal graduate, former member of the water polo team, and a billionaire, but never lost sight of what he could do with his wealth and influence. He was known as a down-to-earth man (he had a passion for bluegrass music) and cited his charitable philosophy as wanting to give to different organizations so that “good things will grow”.
In the Fall of 2005, Hellman teamed with Doris and Don Fisher, Janet and Rick Cronk, and Carol and Ned Spieker to make a $12.5 million donation to support Cal Aquatic Sports. This was at a time when even the now-vaunted Cal swim program was in danger of budget cuts, and this gave a huge shot-in-the-arm towards a $40 million endowment to ensure that the 5 aquatics sports programs (two swim teams, two water polo teams, and diving) would continue to live on indefinitely.
In honor of his donation, there is a Warren F. Hellman endowed swimming scholarship, as well as a combined scholarship named in honor of the four big donors above.
“Cal Athletics will miss a true friend in Warren Hellman, who cared so deeply about our student-athletes and our University.” Director of Athletics Sandy Barbour said. “His vision and commitment to world-class programs truly benefited our entire department, from the need for fully-funded scholarships to hiring and retaining high-level coaches and building state-of-the-art facilities. He was dedicated to our student-athletes having the necessary conditions for success at Cal. Warren was so proud of the accomplishments of our aquatics programs overall, particularly last year when both our swimming teams won NCAA championships and our water polo squads were national runners up.”
Besides his philanthropic interests, Hellman was a private equity innovator who spoke out against the greed of large private equity firms shortly before the economic collapse. He believed in running a totally open, totally transparent industry without any financial wizardry, and he earned hundreds of millions of dollars doing so.
This passing comes at a difficult time where many other programs are facing elimination and where the country is only beginning to emerge from a financial collapse that many have blamed on just the same things that Hellman had lobbied against.
Mr. Hellman is a man to be well-remembered by those around the swimming community, even if this is the first you’ve heard of his name.