ENCINITAS — Max “Lee” Leichtag was fueled to become wealthy by his fear of poverty. When he did after selling his M.D. Pharmaceuticals in 1973, his next goal was to give it back.
“Our family has risen from having our names on the welfare rolls to having our names on buildings we’ve helped create,” he told Marilyn Campbell, a writer who worked for him for many years.
From 1991 to June 30, 2009, the Leichtag Family Foundation has given away $40 million. The most recent gift was $2.4 million from the sale of their Fairbanks Ranch home which was given to Scripps Memorial Hospital, Encinitas. It is the single largest philanthropic donation in the nonprofit hospital’s 44-year history.
“The gift is about benefiting practitioners — doctors and nurses,” said Jim Farley, CEO of the foundation. “The Leichtags wanted to make it easier to deliver quality health care.”
Farley added that during their lifetime, the local medical community had touched the Leichtag family personally. Daughter Joni passed away in 2007 of breast cancer. Lee died a few months later. Wife Toni survives along with granddaughter Heather Greene and her children.
Dr. Michael Lobatz, immediate past chief of staff at Scripps Encinitas, was president of the community advisory board where Lee served for many years.
“Past gifts have been very impactful,” he said. “The gifts to the emergency department and the women’s birth pavilion have affected the lives of tens of thousands of people.”
Lobatz reports that the latest donation will be used to purchase an MRI breast coil, digital mammagram, anesthesia machine, cardiac echo machine, laprascopic video tower, EEG, Fluroscan C-arm x-ray used during surgery and wireless monitors for the emergency room.
Funds are also earmarked for renovations of the women’s imagining and outpatient lab areas.
“Virtually every part of the hospital is being touched by these gifts,” he said. “Hospitals today can’t exist without philanthropy. Lee was not only successful in his business career but in philanthropy and its impact.”
Lee and Toni met at a wedding in1941. Lee was in the army and Toni was a singer for Hoagy Carmichael. They married Christmas Day 1941 in San Francisco.
“Almost everything Lee did was a joint decision,” Farley said.
The couple remained active into their 80s, working out four times a week with a personal trainer.
“They were the most positive people, never dwelling on the negative or living in the past,” Farley said. “They looked to the future. Lee believed age was above the eyebrows, not chronological.”
He added that Lee was one of the most productive people he ever met.
“I found him at the office every day,” he said. “His philosophy was visionary: how to relate to wealth that could mean something far beyond his own lifetime.”
Farley said the $30 million foundation, one of the largest in San Diego County, will eventually grow to $100 million. Current recipients of multiyear donations include UCSD biomedical building, Toni’s Tree House at San Diego Botanic Garden, Jewish Family Services, Second Chance Job Readiness Program, Carlsbad Boys & Girls Club and Joli Ann Leichtag Elementary School in the San Marcos Unified School District.