Ray Dolby


SOURCE OF WEALTH: Founder of Dolby Laboratories

FUNDING AREAS: Health care, education, community issues, and stem cell research

OVERVIEW: Dolby passed away in September 2013. He made large investments in stem cell research and welfare programs. His legacy will continue through the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund. 

BACKGROUND: Dolby was hired by Ampex in 1949 when he was 16, and was considered an integral player in the development of the company's first videotape recording system. A few years later, he went to Cambridge University and earned his PhD in physics. He founded Dolby Laboratories in 1965 and became enormously wealthy, developing systems that were designed to eliminate background noise from audio recordings. Over the years, Dolby has won a number of awards for his work in the recording and film industries, and his name is now ubiquitous with virtually anything that has to do with sound.


STEM CELL RESEARCH: Dolby earned his reputation as a philanthropist largely for his large donations to fund stem cell research programs at the University of California. In 2006, he contributed $16 million to launch the University of Calfornia San Fransisco's fundraising campaign for the the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Regeneration Medicine BuildingThe gift made it possible to merge the work of 15 labs into one location and allow for a greater "cross-pollination of ideas," which Dolby hoped would accelerate the development of cures. He followed up on his support by giving another $20 million.

SF BAY AREA COMMUNITY: Although the vast majority of the charitable dollars distributed through the Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund goes to stem cell research, they are also active in the San Fransisco community, making contributions and grants to organizations dedicated to such diverse issues as women's rights, child abuse, and poverty. Many of the larger donations go to arts organizations, including the American Conservatory Theater, the San Francisco Opera, the San Francisco Symphony, and the Corporation of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, along with dozens of smaller grants to groups such as art museums, film societies, public television, and community arts organizations.

LGBT CAUSES: The Dolbys' son, Tom, is gay, and was able to legally marry his partner in California just before voters passed Proposition 8 and forbade others from doing the same. Dolby donated $135,000 to the effort to fight Proposition 8, and the fund continues to support organizations promoting gay rights.

HEALTH CARE: Since Dolby's passing, his foundation has donated over $1 million to the Alzheimer's Association, as well as $20 million to the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco.

EDUCATION: Dolby's estate recently gave Pembroke College $52.6 million and will make possible the “Ray and Dagmar Dolby Court.”


  • Ray and Dagmar Dolby Family Fund, c/o Dagmar Dolby, 3340 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA 94118, 415-563-6947