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Businessman • Real Estate Investor • Sports Franchise Owner • Chemist

The Amazing Life of an Incredible Man

Dr. Jerry Buss By Dennis Freeman

Charity begins at home. For the late Dr. Jerry Buss, charity was not something to be executed with lip service. It meant putting in the time, money and energy when it came to helping others. As one of the most distinguished professional sports owners of all time, Buss walked the walk when it came to impacting the lives of those less fortunate. He kept a righteous focus and philanthropic commitment to education, eradicating homelessness and bringing a smile to a stranger. He didn’t give back to the United Negro College Fund because it was a mandate for him to do so. His desire to uplift, encourage and inform came straight from the gut. Becoming involved with The Smile Train was not a pretentious act. For Buss, it was a desire for others to have an opportunity to smile just as he did. Seeing people live on the streets struck a chord with him. The homeless world is one without secure shelter; moving from place to place for food; peddling money to survive, being forced to watch your back 24/7 from all kinds of criminal elements. The homeless plight in and around Los Angeles lit a fire under Buss so much so that it moved him to do something about it. He made numerous financial donations over the years such as in 2009, when he gave $100,000 to the New Image Shelter to combat homelessness in LA. This was reflective of where his heart stayed right up until his death this past February at age 80. These many acts of kindness in helping others were not a strange occurrence. Buss identified with the hunger pangs that shot through a young child’s body. He knew what it felt like having to go without. He understood lack. Contrary to images of the glitz, glamour and fame that came with the territory of owning the Los Angeles Lakers, perhaps the most marketable franchise in professional team sports, Buss was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He came from an impoverished background. Born in Salt Lake City, he and his other siblings were raised by his mother (Jessie) after his father walked out leaving the family to fend for themselves. Over the years he watched helplessly as his mother struggled to make ends meet. When Buss was nine years old, he moved with his mother to Los Angeles. “Along those lines, he understood the taxation of poverty on families and on kids,” said Bob Steiner, a close friend. “Maybe his own background raised in him an obligation or sense of responsibility or desire to help.”

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There we have it. A small-town kid who made it big in the land of milk and honey. Through his charitable works, he wanted others to know of the many gateways to a better life. The first was education. He parlayed that message through monetary contributions to the University of Wyoming and University of Southern California (USC); schools he attended and graduated from. Armed with a chemist degree from USC, Buss began as a chemist for the Bureau of Mines (Mine Safety & Health Administration) and worked in the aerospace industry. He landed on the faculty of USC's chemistry department and was a contributor to the Trojans’ athletic programs, ultimately creating an endowment in the school’s chemistry department. In 2008, Buss donated $7.5 million to USC's Department of Chemistry to fund two endowed chairs and an endowed scholarship fund for chemistry graduate students; the two chairs were to be named after his mentors at USC, professors Sidney Benson and David Dows. As an inaugural member of the USC College Board of Councilors, he never stopped stressing the importance of education. He went to school and got an education to escape poverty. His need to reach back for those left behind had little to do with a tax write-off. His heart was in it to change lives. For a man whose net worth reached upwards $600 million (according to Forbes) the need to help others never left

him. And, his ongoing philanthropy extended to people who were associated with the Lakers. As when former Lakers player Walt Hazzard, a then adviser to the team, suffered a catastrophic stroke in 1996. Buss kept Hazzard on the teams’s payroll, and told Hazzard's son that his father would remain a Lakers employee for as long as Buss owned the team. When Hazzard died in 2011, he was still a Lakers employee. “Jerry Buss will be remembered as one of the greatest owners in pro-sports history, as well as a very bright and successful businessman,” said USC Athletic Director Pat Haden in a statement that appears on the USC Trojans athletics blog. “Those of us at USC also knew him as a great Trojan. He had an affinity for USC and its teams dating back to his days as a student and teacher here. He was extremely giving of his time and support for his Trojans. Over the years, he was a familiar figure at many USC sporting events and he had a particular affection for Trojan football, basketball and track and field, as well as the Trojan March Band. The Trojan Family will miss him dearly. We extend our deepest sympathies to his family and to all those in Laker Nation who loved him.” The importance that Buss put on education reached far and wide. Among others, he created an endowment at Michigan State with the Magic Johnson Scholarship.

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