Eli Broad in 2008
Eli Broad in 2008 (Jeremiah Garcia via Wikimedia).

Eli and Edythe Broad’s fortune enabled them to expand their ongoing philanthropic endeavors through The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which provides grants that support education, scientific and medical research and the arts.

Eli Broad, former Detroit businessman and philanthropist whose generosity was as vast as his fortune, died April 30, 2021, in Los Angeles, where he resided for the past six decades with his wife of 67 years, Edythe. He was 87.

Eli Broad was born in the Bronx in 1933, the son of Jewish immigrants from Lithuania. When he was 6 years old, his family moved to Detroit, where he attended Central High School. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Michigan State University business school that now bears his name. Graduating cum laude after only three years, he became Michigan’s youngest certified public accountant at the age of 20. 

In 1954, he married Detroit native Edythe “Edye” Lawson, who inspired his passion for the arts and shared his commitment to supporting education, medical research and other charitable pursuits during their long and loving marriage. In his early 20s, he started the Kaufman & Broad Building Company with local developer Donald Kaufman. The company quickly became successful selling no-frills homes, starting in the Detroit suburbs and expanding to Phoenix and Los Angeles, where the Broads moved in 1964. His next business move was acquiring Baltimore-based insurance company Sun Life, which he later renamed SunAmerica and sold to American International Group (AIG) for $18 billion. 

The Broads’ fortune enabled them to expand their ongoing philanthropic endeavors through The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which provides grants that support education, scientific and medical research and the arts. To date, the foundation has donated more than $4 billion to a variety of causes and organizations.

In Los Angeles, Mr. Broad was instrumental in enhancing the downtown area and transforming the city’s art world. After he and Edythe amassed a renowned contemporary art collection, they established the Broad Art Foundation, a global “lending library” designed to increase public access to private art collections. In addition, they provided funding for many Los Angeles cultural institutions, culminating with the opening of the contemporary art museum The Broad in 2015.

Ever the loyal Spartan, Eli Broad donated more than $100 million to his alma mater, Michigan State University. Numerous buildings and programs on the East Lansing campus bear his name, including the Eli Broad College of Business, the Eli Broad Graduate School of Management and the 46,000-square-foot Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum and the MSU Broad Art Lab. 

In a statement on the MSU website, College of Business Dean Sanjay Gupta described Eli Broad as “unreasonable and unforgettable,” a generous benefactor who left an “extraordinary and unparalleled legacy” to the university.

He is also the author of the 2012 New York Times bestseller “The Art of Being Unreasonable: Lessons in Unconventional Thinking.”

Eli Broad is survived by his wife, Edythe, and their two sons, Jeffrey and Gary.