Joseph and Rosalie Segal and their family give a transformative gift to help fund JDRF’s Centre of Excellence at UBC

Joseph Segal is a 96-year-old World War II vet and renowned business tycoon. As the founder of Fields stores and President of Kingswood Capital Corporation, Joseph Segal has built an impressive empire, but perhaps his most tremendous success comes in the form of his and his family’s philanthropy. Recently, JDRF was the recipient of his family’s incredible generosity, receiving a $1 million contribution to fund the JDRF Centre of Excellence at the University of British Columbia as part of its Campaign to Accelerate.

This Centre will be the first of its kind in Canada, among just four others worldwide. In Vancouver, world-class researchers are poised to bring therapies to the clinical testing stage to cure T1D and positively impact other autoimmune diseases. 

The JDRF Centre of Excellence will be a game-changer for T1D research. Joseph and Rosalie Segal and their family have helped to set that change in motion.

JDRF had the opportunity to speak to Joseph and his grandson Danny Miller about what prompted their contribution.  See the interview below from May 13, 2021:
JDRF: Mr. Segal, Please tell us more about what causes you feel strongly about and why?

Joseph Segal: I could sum it up in one word: everything.

We feel that every cause that has a genuineness to it is important. So I could say mental health, I could say Vancouver General Hospital, I could say education because education is the answer to most of the tragedy in the world. So every cause is important. But, there are other causes that most people don’t look at when you have a situation – an individual who needs a little bit of help – maybe $5,000, maybe $3,000, perhaps $10,000; and they don’t know where to turn. They have nowhere to turn. Those are causes that are below the surface, and those are the causes that are important because it gives the individual a little bit of encouragement. It makes the individual feel that you care. Those are the causes that go unseen. But those are the causes that have as much impact as giving to what everybody else gives to.

So, you have to have somebody who you can look to who will give you a hand. That’s simple. And that’s a very necessary part of society that is, to a large degree, overlooked.

JDRF: Mr. Segal, why is giving important to you personally?

Joseph Segal: You have an obligation in society to give because you truly feel you want to give. That is a different situation than giving because you have to give.

I can remember days when I didn’t have that much, and my first major contribution was $100,000, which was the value of my house. So, I was essentially giving away my house. But, I thought, I’ll make it back. So, it’s not a question of saying, I’m giving back –  you have to say I’m giving what I can.

The individual who gives $2,000 is equally as important as the individual who gives $1 million because nobody gives anything that they’re going to miss. But the $2,000 contributor is probably going to feel it more than the $1 million contributors.

JDRF: Mr. Segal, how do you and Rosalie make decisions on what to fund?

Joseph Segal: Most people probably have a dialogue, and they try to determine if it’s important or not important. I’ve been married 73 years next month, and in 73 years, I have never, ever had a difference of opinion or discussion around any charity that we decided to support. She has charities that I don’t even think about to support. I have charities, make a decision, make a commitment, and fulfill the commitment. That’s the end of it. We do it together.

There has never been a difference of opinion to what is necessary because when the cause is right, it doesn’t matter who makes the decision. If you can, you support the cause to whatever degree you feel inclined.

JDRF: Mr. Segal, what made you become our first donor to the JDRF Centre of Excellence at UBC?

Joseph Segal: There are many reasons that I did it, but the first reason is that it’s worthy.

There are many causes that are universal, and diabetes is universal. It’s an important step towards solving a major problem. It is like the vaccination for COVID-19, if you didn’t have it, what would you have? Chaos around the world. So, it is not about the obligation to find a solution but about the will to find a solution to one of the problems that are so important in society. Juvenile diabetes is one thing, and then as you become an adult, you still have diabetes because there is no solution to it. Because I have had an exposure with a family member or two who have suffered from diabetes, and it’s a debilitating disease if you don’t manage it. People that don’t have it probably don’t understand the necessity of managing it properly.

So, you’re not just doing a good job, you’re fulfilling a major need for the community, and if you get this off the ground, if they find just a little bit of a cure – a partial cure – open the window and let the fresh air in, that’s what you’re trying to do.

Once you find a solution, you will enhance the lives of so many people, and that was the reason.

JDRF: Mr. Segal, a major component of the Centre of Excellence, is being flexible and adapting as the research changes. How does that adaptability align with your business ethos?

Joseph Segal: If you want to be successful in life, you need flexibility. You can go down the road, and you can say “I am on the right road” and you can drive 100 kms, and then you’ll say “I’m maybe on the wrong road”. So, when you’re into research, and I’m not familiar with research, but I can imagine that when you’re in research, you’ll find something you didn’t anticipate. And maybe that opens up a whole new road, and you pursue that road instead of the other road.

Without flexibility, it can take twice as long to find the answer and find the road.

You have to be optimistic too. You have to believe that the mission you’re on will have an end and that you’ll be happy with it. If all your researchers have the same attitude, then their profession is going to yield results.

JDRF: Mr. Segal, where did your philanthropic value system come from, and how have you instilled it throughout your family?

Joseph Segal: When we got married 73 years ago, I didn’t have anything; I was in the army and overseas in Europe (Belgium, Germany).  When I came back and saw my wife, I said “That’s the girl of my dreams,” and I married her. We both set the example for our children and, fortunately, they have the same attitude.  They’re involved in different areas and different communities. I attribute that entirely to my wife.

I don’t have any words of wisdom. All I know is that you have a cause. The cause is legitimate, the cause is vital and if we can do a little bit to further the development and the understanding of this disease, then we will have contributed to the world;  like Banting (and Best) with insulin.  

I’m not telling you that to impress you. That has been the attitude that I have lived with all my life.

Joseph and Rosalie’s grandson Danny Miller is the co-Chair of the JDRF Centre of Excellence Campaign, and Danny’s son Cody has T1D:
JDRF: Mr. Miller, how have your grandparents’ legacy of generosity inspired you?

Danny Miller: Well, how can it not inspire you?

I’ve heard Grandpa say many times that it doesn’t matter whether it’s $2,000 or $2 million; you give what you can if the cause is worthy. And that’s exactly right. What might be a little to me might make a huge difference to somebody else, and that’s always been in the back of my mind. So, I try to live that way, and so do my wife Jennifer and our kids.

It’s really inspiring to see the generosity and the fact that no cause is too small or too unimportant as long as it’s worthy and genuine, then it’s important to support it. That’s what I’ve learned.

JDRF: Mr. Miller,  what does the JDRF Centre of Excellence at UBC mean for you?

Danny Miller: Freedom. Being able to relax and not worry about what’s going to happen to my kid at any given time.

Vancouver is already a world-leading research hub for type 1 diabetes research, so the opportunity to take all those world-class researchers and bring them all together and make 1+1 =3 is something that I couldn’t NOT support.

It’s something we had to support because it’s just too obvious, the need. If you take an important cause and bring the best people together and help them work together even better, only good things can happen.

To my grandparents, I’ve said this to you before, thank you so much for taking the lead on this because it’s really important to me and Jen and my parents and Cody and his brothers. It’s just a really important cause and thank you.

JDRF thanks Joseph and Rosalie Segal and their family for their incredible generosity. Their contributions will help to accelerate the most promising research into cures and help us one day realize a world free from type 1 diabetes.

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