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Mayor Michael Bloomberg, seen here at Johns Hopkins University, is the most generous living donor to any educational institution.

Luke Sharrett, New York Times

NYC mayor's supersized gifts to alma mater hit $1.1 billion

  • Article by: MICHAEL BARBARO
  • New York Times
  • January 27, 2013 - 9:34 PM

BALTIMORE - He arrived on campus a middling high school student from Medford, Mass., who had settled for Cs and had confined his ambitions to the math club.

But by the time Michael R. Bloomberg left Johns Hopkins University, with a smattering of A's and a lust for leadership, he was a social and political star -- the president of his fraternity, his senior class and the council overseeing Greek life. "An all-around big man on campus," as he puts it.

His gratitude toward the university, starting with a $5 donation the year after he graduated, has since taken on a supersize, Bloombergian scale. On Sunday, the New York City mayor made a $350 million gift to his alma mater, putting the total of his donations to Johns Hopkins during the past four decades at a staggering $1.1 billion.

That figure, kept quiet even as it transformed every corner of the university, makes Bloomberg the most generous living donor to any education institution in the United States, according to university officials and philanthropic tallies.

The timing of his latest donation, as the mayor's third term draws to a close, offers a glimpse of the sky-is-the-limit philanthropy that he and his aides say is likely to dominate his life after City Hall. The mayor, 70, has pledged to give away all of his $25 billion fortune before he dies, and he has built up a foundation on the Upper East Side of Manhattan to carry out the task.

At the same time, the donations highlight the unusually close relationship between Bloomberg and Johns Hopkins, which, interviews show, has played an unseen role in several of his biggest undertakings as mayor.

In an interview, Bloomberg said he was making his donations public to encourage greater charitable giving toward education. He lamented, "In our society, we are defunding education."

'Died and gone to heaven'

The mayor, a member of the class of 1964, explained his fidelity to the university in deeply personal terms. Johns Hopkins, he said, was where he escaped the crushing boredom of Medford High and discovered an urban campus of stately Georgian buildings brimming with new people and ideas.

"I just thought I'd died and gone to heaven," he said.

"If I had been the son of academics," he added, "maybe I would have been on campuses and would never have been as impressed as I was when I was here, because it's the first time I really was walking among people who were world leaders, who were creating, inventing."

Johns Hopkins as it exists today is inconceivable without Bloomberg, whose giving has fueled major improvements in the university's reputation and rankings, its competitiveness for faculty and students, and the appearance of its campus.

His wealth -- not to mention a small army of his favored architects, art consultants and landscape designers -- has bankrolled and molded the handsome brick-and-marble walkways, lamps and benches that dot the campus; has constructed a physics building, a school of public health, a children's hospital, a stem-cell research institute, a malaria institute and a library wing; and has financed 20 percent of all need-based financial aid grants to undergraduates over the past few years.

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