Conservative Philanthropist David Koch Dead at 79

His conservative politics drew the ire of those on the political left.

But billionaire philanthropist David Koch, who passed away on Friday, is also being remembered as a staunch supporter of historically Black colleges in particular and higher education in general.

Koch, along with his brother Charles, donated funds to HBCUs and the organizations that support them, including the United Negro College Fund and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

Koch, 79, built Koch Industries, one of the largest ethanol producers in the country. He held a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The two brothers also created a powerful political network aimed at funding conservative candidates and using negative advertising to defeat progressive causes.

Their political efforts proved quite successful.

“Twenty-seven years ago, David was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer and given a grim prognosis of a few years to live,” said Charles Koch in a statement. “David liked to say that a combination of brilliant doctors, state-of-the-art medications and his own stubbornness kept the cancer at bay. We can all be grateful that it did, because he was able to touch so many more lives as a result.”

Although it was Charles’ family foundation that tended to make the philanthropic gifts to the organizations that support HBCUs, David was equally interested in finding ways to support and encourage the advancement of Black students attending college.

“There is no doubt that Thurgood Marshall College Fund and the entire HBCU community has benefited from the philanthropy of Koch Industries,” said Dr. Harry L. Williams, president & CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF). “We mourn the passing of its former executive vice president, David Koch, and send our condolences to his entire family, as we continue the work of our Center for Advancing Opportunity (CAO) made possible by a $25.6 million gift from the Charles Koch Foundation and Koch Industries in 2017.

CAO currently provides undergraduate scholarships, graduate fellowships and grants to faculty working to establish university-based research centers on education reform, criminal justice, and other issues impacting opportunity in fragile communities.

“CAO is in the business of advancing opportunity through the work of scholars and students at HBCUs,” said CAO Executive Director Gerard Robinson. “Although David Koch was not the main investor in this endeavor, his brother Charles Koch is, [and] the Koch family and its network have played an important role in supporting HBCUs through full-time jobs, internships and conference sponsorships.”

Koch also donated hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research.

He was a huge supporter of the arts, specifically in New York City where he lived, and his donations included $65 million to support a renovation of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“David Koch was an unwavering supporter of our Museum, reflected in his service as a trustee and his most generous philanthropic support. We are extremely grateful for his generosity and send our condolences to Julia and his entire family,” the Met said a statement. The museum’s front plaza, which is adorned with two massive fountains and stretches four blocks, is named for Koch.

The David H. Koch Theater at the Lincoln Center and the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing at the American Museum of Natural History also got their names following contributions from him.

And a wing at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History and MIT’s Institute for Integrative Cancer Research were also named in his honor after multimillion-dollar donations.

By Janet Kline of DIVERSE: Issues in Higher Education