Years in the Making: Behind a Big Eye Research Gift on Campus

Josephine Herbert Gleis recently pledged $5 million to UC Irvine Health’s Gavin Herbert Eye Institute to accelerate eye research and "enable the pursuit of innovative new ideas for sight-saving treatments." As you might've guessed from Gleis' middle name, she and her family played a major role in bringing UCI's Gavin Herbert Eye Institute into fruition. 

In 2007, Gleis and her son Gavin Jr. made a $10 million naming gift to establish the eye institute. The institute went on to open its doors in 2013, after receiving funds from other donors like Julia and George Argyros, Marsha and Bill Link, and the Arnold & Mabel Beckman Foundation. Overall, the initiative clocked in at $39 million, and the Herbert family's leadership role should be noted.

Through the years, Gleis, who's turning 104 next month, has contributed a total of $19 million to UCI. Apart from opthalmology, she's also supported arts and neurology. The build from the Herbert family's initial naming gift, to their recent gift catalyzing the young the institute spans nearly a decade and is a good example of an institution and a donor staying on each other's radar over the years.  

Still, a question one might ask is what got the Herbert family interested in things ocular in the first place, because, as we often say, philanthropy tends to have a personal element.

Well, Gleis' late husband, Gavin S. Herbert, Sr., was a pharmacist in Los Angeles. In the late 1940s, he started a small ophthalmic business above one of his drugstores. The burgeoning business' first product?  An antihistamine eye drop named Allergan. 

The early years of the business were tricky. Son Gavin Jr. became involved with the company, but was drafted into the navy during the Korean War. Gavin Sr., meanwhile, was involved in an auto accident. It's safe to say the company hit a stride, and by the 1990s, achieved $1 billion in sales. Gavin Jr. steered the company from the 1960s to the 1990s. Today, Allergan is a pharma giant behind such products as Botox. 

Botox, by the way, apart from being a plastic surgeon's godsend, is also a treatment for crossed eyes and uncontrolled blinking. OK. A little eye history which helps explain why the Herberts would be especially interested in helping bankroll an eye institute at a major California university 

The $5 million gift from Gleis will help facilitate the exploration of new ideas at the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute that one day have the potential to end preventable blindness. As Dr. Roger Steinert, director of the Gavin Herbert Eye Institute and Irving H. Leopold Professor of Ophthalmology, puts it, “Thanks to her generosity, Orange County residents have access to world-class eye care without leaving the community. And when we find ways to eradicate preventable blindness, we will owe her a debt of gratitude for her steadfast support of vital research.”