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Trustee Gerald Tsai, Jr., Dies at 79

Investment expert helped build campus community centers

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Gerald Tsai (CAS’49, GRS’49, Hon.’03) donated more than $7 million to the University for campus improvements, including the Tsai Performance Center and the Tsai Fitness Center in the Fitness and Recreation Center.

Gerald Tsai, Jr., a trustee emeritus and a devoted BU alumnus whose generosity helped improve the Charles River Campus, died Wednesday, July 9, at age 79. His son Christopher told the New York Times that the cause was multiple organ failure.

Tsai (CAS’49, GRS’49, Hon.’03), who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics at Boston University, was internationally renowned as a groundbreaking financier. He began building investment funds for Fidelity while still in his 20s, but even as he led major multinational corporations, he remained committed to BU and the University’s efforts to improve the campus and build community. His major gifts supported the construction of campus facilities such as the Tsai Performance Center and the Tsai Fitness Center in the Fitness and Recreation Center.

“Jerry was an icon in the investment community and one of Boston University’s most loyal and active alumni,” says BU President Robert A. Brown. “He understood the role of the University in the creation of a student’s professional and personal life and was a generous supporter of initiatives to enhance their educational experiences. I will personally miss him.”

A native of Shanghai, China, Tsai attended St. John’s Middle School and St. John’s University there and came to the United States in 1947. After a semester at Wesleyan University, he transferred to BU, where he attended the former College of Liberal Arts when the school was on Boylston Street in Copley Square. He said that when CLA, which later became the College of Arts and Sciences, moved to its current home on Commonwealth Avenue in 1947, he and his classmates were very excited, because they felt they had a real college campus. He maintained that enthusiasm for Boston University throughout his life and repeatedly led the way in fundraising drives to better the University’s facilities and improve the student and faculty experience.

Tsai began his investment career in 1951 as a security analyst at Bache & Company. A year later, he joined Boston’s Fidelity Management and Research Company, Inc., as a security analyst, ascending to director, and, in 1963, to executive vice president of the company. He subsequently held executive positions in several of the nation’s most important financial institutions and eventually became the founder and chair of his own management and consulting firm, Tsai Management, Inc., and a philanthropic organization, the Gerald Tsai Foundation.

“Jerry was a once-in-a-generation investment talent who truly earned the nickname ‘whiz-kid,’ which was bestowed upon him by acclamation in the 1960s,” says Robert Knox (CAS’74, GSM’75), the chairman-elect of the BU Board of Trustees. “What many outside the investment world may not know of, because Jerry was a very private person, was his generosity to many worthy institutions and causes. Jerry’s magnificent gifts to BU reflected his love of, and lifelong loyalty to, his alma mater.”

Tsai’s first major gift to BU enabled the creation of the Tsai Performance Center in 1989; at the time, his pledge of $5.5 million was the largest individual gift from a single donor in BU’s history. The center, a renovation of the former Hayden Hall, was intended to provide a performance space for BU’s resident artists and music ensembles, such as the Muir String Quartet, ALEA III, and the Boston University Symphony Orchestra.

When the center opened with a performance of the opera Don Giovanni, Boston Globe critic Richard Dyer wrote that BU’s College of Fine Arts “is a major center of musical education, but there has never been a suitable place for its resident soloists, professional ensembles, and student groups to appear in concert; in fact, there has been no suitable place for its orchestra to rehearse. It is already apparent that the Tsai Center is a welcoming and useful place and a partial answer to one of the university’s most pressing needs.”

When another pressing need arose more than a decade later — an up-to-date fitness and athletic facility where students could gather — Tsai gave $2 million for the Tsai Fitness Center, the facility’s 18,000-square-foot weight training and cardiovascular conditioning area. When the center opened in 2005, Tsai said he was inspired by the project’s enormous potential to provide a sense of community for students. “I know that this will be a very useful facility,” he said. “I am proud to be in a position to help the students.” The Fitness and Recreation Center serves approximately 5,000 members each day.

An Associate Founder of BU, Tsai was a member of the University’s Board of Trustees from 1967 to 1977 and from 1988 to 2002 and served as an honorary member of the board until his death. The University bestowed an honorary degree on him in 2003.

"Boston University has lost an extraordinary friend and alumnus with the passing of Jerry Tsai," says Alan Leventhal, the chairman of the Board of Trustees. "Whether by attending performances at the Tsai Center or working out at FitRec, members of our community have benefited from Jerry’s generosity and remarkable dedication to the University. The trustees, overseers, and trustees emeriti are deeply saddened by Jerry’s death, and we offer our deepest condolences to the Tsai family."

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.

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