The Colorful Couple Behind the Big Bladder Cancer Gift

Slot these guys in with the other wealthy eccentrics you know. Erwin and Stephanie Cooper Greenberg are 32 years apart in age, but they share hobbies like fighter jets, an interest in causes like veteran’s assistance and, now, bladder cancer.

The couple recently put up a full third of the funding sought by Johns Hopkins’ emerging bladder cancer institute: $15 million of $45 million, enough to give the Greenbergs naming rights, and enough to make us wonder what else they’re into, and what they’ll fund next.

This gift is important. The institute will be the only one in the world dedicated to bladder cancer, which is the sixth most common type of cancer. That’s easy to forget, when cancers with more caché—breast, lung, brain—get more attention. But 15,000 people will die this year from bladder cancer in the United States and so it’s fitting that this relatively unsung cancer should finally get an institute devoted to its cure. This gift is the largest gift specific to bladder cancer ever received by Johns Hopkins.

The gift doesn’t seem to be personally motivated, which is surprising, given its size and prominence. The Greenbergs are incredibly philanthropically active, but most of their giving is emphatically outside the box. They've got an independent streak a mile wide: These guys aren’t giving to the United Way or funding soup kitchens. They’re gassing up their Beechcraft King Air B200 (no joke), flying cross-country to airlift veterans to vacations, family events, even medical appointments. They do this bit of work in cooperation with the Veterans Airlift Command.

Looking at the Greenbergs’ more terrestrial charitable efforts, it’s clear that Stephanie, at least, has a deep interest in animal welfare and animal therapy. In 2010, she hooked up her interest in animals with the Kennedy Krieger Institute, starting the Reading Education Assistance Dog (READ) program, which helps hospitalized kids practice literacy by reading to trained therapy dogs. Stephanie also serves on the board of Pets Are Worth Saving (PAWS), and she came before the House Ways and Means Committee with her Dalmatian to raise awareness of the benefits therapy dogs can bring to working with pediatric cancer patients.

The Greenbergs are on a bunch of nonprofit boards, including the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center’s National Advisory Board and the Advisory Board of the Johns Hopkins University Berman Institute of Bioethics. Erwin, with his background in real estate and commercial development, also serves on the board for the Board of Visitors and Governors of St. John’s College in Annapolis, MD, and Santa Fe, NM.