UCSF Community Saddened by Loss of Quiet Champion Sanford Diller

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Helen and Sanford Diller (center) at the 2006 dedication ceremony for the Helen Diller Family Cancer Research Building, with Peter R. Carroll (far left), MD, MPH, and then-Chancellor J. Michael Bishop, MD (far right).Sanford Diller, a self-made real estate magnate, philanthropist and dear friend and longtime champion of the University, died peacefully at his home in Woodside, Calif., on Feb. 2. He was 89.

Sanford Diller and his late wife, Helen, whose name graces UCSF’s cancer center, were among the University’s most generous champions with lifetime donations to UCSF from the Helen Diller Family Foundation of more than $1.15 billion.

Born at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco in 1928, Diller was the son of Jewish immigrants from Austria. No stranger to the UC system, he earned his bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley and his law degree from UC Hastings and the University of San Francisco. He met the love of his life, Helen Samuels, when they were both UC Berkeley undergraduates. The couple married in 1951, and their loving partnership continued for more than six decades until Helen passed away in 2015.

A Leader in West Coast Real Estate

After practicing law for several years, Diller switched careers and began investing in and developing commercial and residential real estate. In 1965, he founded the Prometheus Real Estate Group, which grew under his tutelage into one of the largest apartment development and investment companies on the West Coast, expanding to more than 15,000 units in the Bay Area, Seattle, and Portland, Ore. Diller attributed his success to hard work and discipline.

In work and in life, Sanford Diller always pushed for great design. He was one of the first real estate developers to move away from the utilitarian, box-like apartments that were prevalent at the time and toward more high quality, spacious dwellings. Other real estate investors looked to him for guidance, and he became …

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