One of America's Oldest Billionaires Is Into Health and Nutrition. Where Will His Fortune Go?

With a net worth of $2.4 billion, 91-year-old David H. Murdock has made some huge contributions to the fields of medical research and higher education. Murdock is owner and chairman of the Dole Food Company, located in Westlake Village California, and he’s the owner and CEO of the real-estate development company Castle & Cooke. Although his individual grants have been somewhat few and far between, his gifts are large and always newsworthy.

David H. Murdock came from humble beginnings. He dropped out of high school, was drafted into the army during World War II, and was homeless in Detroit after the war. But he got experience in the real estate market, moved to Los Angeles, and took over the nearly bankrupt Hawaiian firm Castle & Cooke, which owned the pineapple and banana producer Dole Foods Company. In 2013, he took Dole Foods private in a deal that valued his company at $1.6 billion.

Although Murdock has not established a foundation to channel his philanthropic interests or signed the Giving Pledge, we occasionally see a generous grant come from his wealth. In 2013, Murdock gave $50 million to the David H. Murdock Research Institute, which is part of the North Carolina Research Campus, an entity he founded in 2005. The institute conducts research in the areas of agriculture, nutrition, and human health. Before last year’s grant, Murdock gave $135.3 million to support research and operations at the institute and more than $600 million to support construction and infrastructure.

Murdock is a personal advocate for healthy eating and natural foods. He told AARP that he believes anything that touches the sun has nutritional value and that anyone who wants to live past 100 can do it. “I didn't need all my money, so I decided I'll spend it for science," he said in an AARP interview. "I'm interested in keeping myself alive forever, and so I want to look after other people the same way I look after myself."

Although Murcock made much of his fortune in the Los Angeles area, his other major grants have been focused on North Carolina as well. In 2008, he gave $2 million to North Carolina State University in Raleigh to help endow three professorships at the Fruit and Vegetable Science Institute. And in 2007, he gave $35 million to Duke University in Durham for a biomedical research project to study matching medical treatment to patients’ genetic profiles.

After the death of his third wife, Gabriele, (he’s been married five times) he has been involved in finding a cure for cancer, promoting nutrition and life extension. The Dole Nutrition Handbook: What to Eat and How to Live for a Longer, Healthier Life, was his 2010 publishing endeavor.

He also collaborated with experts at the Mayo Clinic, University of California, Los Angeles, and Dole Food Company to publish The Encyclopedia of Foods, A Guide to Healthy Nutrition. Closer to home, he developed a wellness center across the street from Dole’s headquarters in Westlake Village, as well as the California Health and Longevity Institute.

So what does David Murdock’s philanthropy look like for the years ahead?

He seems fairly set in his ways as far as grantees and focus areas, which isn’t a surprise for someone who has so much life experience and so many personal convictions. But as he approaches 100, we wouldn’t be surprised to see more medical research grants going to higher education institutions in the areas he has a personal connection to. These days, he resides in Southern California with other residences in New York, Kannapolis, North Carolina, and Lana’i, Hawaii.

If I were a running a big program focused on health and nutrition, I'd be thinking about how to get to David Murdock. 

To learn more about Murdock’s life and passions, check out the New York Times article, “The Billionnaire Who Is Planning His 125th Birthday and his interview in Ventana Monthly magazine.