He was 82. Prebys died at Scripps Mercy Hospital with his family by his side.
Prebys' philanthropy made his name nearly ubiquitous in San Diego, from a major cardiovascular care center in La Jolla to a student union at San Diego State University and a major exhibit at the San Diego Zoo. His name also adorns the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla.
"I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Conrad Prebys, a dear friend and a steadfast supporter of UC San Diego for many years,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K Khosla. “Conrad touched so many lives through his generosity and kindness, and has left a lasting impact on our campus, our community and our world. “We will miss him immensely and cherish his legacy,” continued Khosla. “From his support that created the Conrad Prebys Music Center at UCSD to his philanthropic gifts that benefited health sciences and many other fields and organizations, he improved the quality of life of our campus and community members and forever changed the landscape of San Diego."
Of Prebys, Mayor Kevin Faulconer said, “Through his enormous generosity and deep kindness, Conrad Prebys changed San Diego for the better time and time again. His long list of philanthropic pursuits — from scientific research to arts and culture to college scholarships — have left an indelible mark on countless lives and will continue to do so for generations to come. He will forever be known as one of San Diego's finest.''
San Diego State University (SDSU) President Elliot Hirshman said Prebys “touched and ennobled'' everyone he met, adding his “contagious optimism and selfless generosity have forever changed our campus and the entire San Diego region.''
“His name and his legacy will live on at San Diego State University in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union, the thousands of students who will receive Conrad Prebys' scholarships, the Conrad Prebys Center for Viromics Research and the Conrad Prebys Chair for Bio-medical Research,'' Hirshman said.
“The entire San Diego State University community mourns the loss of a treasured friend and supporter.''
Raised in a working-class neighborhood of South Bend, Ind., Prebys developed a heart condition at the age of 8 that forced him to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle, so he learned to play piano and developed an appreciation of the arts. He later graduated from Indiana University and made a fortune in real estate and construction.
Over the span of more than four decades, Prebys had a successful career as a real estate developer and property manager in San Diego, with a focus on affordable housing. Named one of the 25 most generous people in the world by Business Insider in 2012, Prebys made a wide-ranging impact with philanthropic giving in areas ranging from education and the arts, to health sciences and medicine, to wildlife preservation.
At UCSD, Prebys made a significant impact on the Department of Music, establishing the world-class Conrad Prebys Music Center, as well as the Conrad Prebys Music Endowment, with gifts totaling $9 million.
The Conrad Prebys Concert Hall, one of the world’s best small concert halls situated within the Conrad Prebys Music Center, was also named in his honor to recognize his generosity.
Most recently, Prebys established the Conrad Prebys Presidential Chair in Music — the first endowed faculty chair in the Department of Music — to support scholarly activity and graduate fellowships. Prebys supported a variety of campus areas including Moores Cancer Center and Jacobs Medical Center at UC San Diego Health, as well as The Preuss School UCSD.
Rand Steiger, chair of the Department of Music and holder of the Conrad Prebys Presidential Chair in Music, shared Prebys’ love of music and inspired him to support the university’s programs. Steiger said, “Mr. Prebys was an incredibly generous and humble man. He made a fortune by building apartment complexes that were well maintained and rented at reasonable rates, and he continued to live quite modestly even after he became a billionaire. He gave away hundreds of millions of dollars to many organizations, and the UC San Diego Music Department is among those that have benefited from his largesse.”
“When he spoke at the opening of the Conrad Prebys Music Center, he talked about how lucky he felt to be able to help us with such an exciting project,” Steiger continued.
“The last time I visited with Mr. Prebys it was at his office — a very small room located in one of his apartment complexes. The office had a modest desk and a couch that had clearly seen better days. I would later learn that the couch was the one he’d slept on when he first moved to San Diego, and he kept as a reminder of his early struggles and humble origins. I feel fortunate to have known him and very sad to say goodbye. Generations of students will benefit from his gifts to us, and here at UC San Diego, as in the city more broadly, he will not be forgotten.”
Prebys’ generosity and leadership spanned far beyond UC San Diego. His transformational community support included gifts to the San Diego Zoo, Scripps Health, the Old Globe Theatre, San Diego State University, Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute, Boys and Girls Club, KPBS, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, the San Diego Museum of Art, San Diego Opera and the Salk Institute, among others.
Born in South Bend, Ind., in 1933, Prebys moved to San Diego in 1965. He went on to build a successful business as the owner of Progress Construction Company, which focused, not only on real estate development and property management, but also on providing affordable housing for the community.
The Prebys family released the following statement: “Born with a giving spirit, Conrad’s deep generosity has helped strengthen and enrich the community in many important ways, including health care, medical research, music, theater, youth services, and wildlife preservation.”
Survivors include life partner Debbie Turner.
Memorial services were not immediately announced.