Philanthropy

A Legacy of Science and Health

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Dean and Donna LeBaron understand the importance of a sterile hospital environment, which is why the couple recently funded the purchase of an $85,000 disinfecting robot to benefit Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

“My father was a doctor,” Dean said. “I would make house calls with him, way back in the Depression days, which is what doctors did then. He was a scientist and in his office he had an ultraviolet light, which he believed made the air more purified than would otherwise be the case. So when Sarasota Memorial was looking at this device for purifying hospital rooms, it related to my youth and the memory of my father.”

The LeBarons’ donation, made between their LeBaron Foundation and the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare Foundation, funded the Tru-D — a remotely operated, mobile system that uses ultraviolet light to disinfect surfaces, according to its website. It is designed to break down the DNA of most bacteria, viruses and spores, leaving them unable to reproduce. The equipment does not require special installation or ventilation. It is placed near the center of a room, with any objects moved away from the walls for maximum effect. The user then steps outside of the room and activates the device through a password-protected remote control. Cleansing ultraviolet light is then dispensed to all exposed surfaces, even those in shadows. Once the process is complete, the disinfected space is ready for immediate patient use.

“Donna and I have both been involved with hospitals and scientific projects around Boston, so this fit in fine with us,” Dean said. “About 30 years ago, we started the LeBaron Foundation to invest in science and in both international and local activities, wherever we were, so this became an obvious thing for the LeBaron Foundation to do. We were looking for scientific pursuits in the Sarasota area and Sarasota Memorial Hospital looked like it was the place to take science and apply it to make people better.”

Dean hails from New England, while Donna grew up in Ohio. He is founder and former chairman of Batterymarch Financial Management and she comes from a background in journalism and book publishing, with a number of New York Times bestsellers to her credit. The two have been together for 25 years. They currently live on Casey Key. Donna said the greater Sarasota area is a perfect fit for both of them.

“My brother and sister-in-law and niece and her family live in the Sarasota area,” she said. “Dean came to Florida somewhat skeptical about it, having lived in New England his whole life. Within three days of moving into the house on Casey Key, he told me, ‘I really love this. I could live here all the time.’ Within six months, we bought the property across the street and are building a second house there. We both enjoy Sarasota and all that it has to offer.”

“Although we’ve owned a number of houses around the world, Florida holds the best combination of activity and people we know,” Dean added. “This will be our headquarters.”

Dean maintained the Tru-D is not the end of their philanthropic endeavors.

“We look for a blending of individual interests as well as doing good works,” he said. “We’re looking for causes and Donna has been very good at finding friends who have recommended Southeastern Guide Dogs and the Suncoast Science Center. We’re also interested locally in food banks, as they satisfy a keen need. Sarasota is also known for its arts community and we’ve contributed some money there as well.”

He added the couple’s largest philanthropic commitment over the last 10-20 years has been in Nepal, where families sell their daughters into slavery in order to survive.

“We work with Olga Murray of the Nepal Youth Foundation,” Donna said. “We met her many, many years ago. Olga figured out that if she gave each family a piglet, they could raise it, sell the pig and get just as much money for the pig as they would for their daughter. She has saved tens of thousands of these children and expanded her work to help little boys and handicapped children, who are very much looked down upon in that society.”

Science and health, however, remain the continuing focus of the couple’s Sarasota philanthropy — particularly at Sarasota Memorial Hospital.

“It’s a growing institution,” Dean said. “The medical staff is around 1,200 and more and more that staff is combining treatment with research. As individual practitioners get more involved in research, we will probably go along with them.”

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