Inside Laura and Isaac Perlmutter’s $50 Million Gift to NYU Langone

It really makes you sit up and pay attention when a foundation does something unexpected, doesn't it? So it was last week, when the NYU Langone Medical Center announced receipt of a $50 million gift to support their cancer research. The gift, which comes partly from the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Foundation, and partly from the couple’s private finances, will be honored with the renaming of Langone’s cancer center as the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Cancer Center at NYU Langone.

Though the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Foundation has provided the hospital with over $8 million in the past, this gift might seem like a bolt—a big bolt—from the blue unless you’re more familiar with their past interests. Like any dutiful millionaire’s wife, Laura began with volunteering. She worked in Langone hospital’s gift shop in the 1980s, eventually rising to become president of its Tisch Hospital Auxiliary, a position she held for seven years, from 1985 to 1992. Since 1985, Laura has been a trustee for the hospital, and since 2005, she has sat on its Cancer Advisory Board. Her interest in healthcare philanthropy has been deep, dogged, and essentially lifelong.

Her husband’s commitment has been declared more recently, when last year he was seconded to join the board of the Langone Cancer Center. Then the $50 million gift was announced. It’s always fun to consider the “why” behind the exact timing of big gifts. Sometimes the answer is coincidence, sometimes impact. Most foundations want their support to make the biggest possible splash, so they wait for a quiet moment in the news cycle.

For this gift, the best explanation we can come up with is diversion. Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter, known for legendary miserliness and heads-rolling executive meetings, has long been publicity-averse. Now that Disney has acquired Marvel, perhaps he’s seeking to soften his image.

Whatever the reason, it will surely be interesting to see how the Foundation evolves and expands in the aftermath of this big gift. One thing is clear, for sure: the Laura and Isaac Perlmutter Foundation has entered a new era of generosity.