Lorry I. Lokey, alum and philanthropist who transformed Stanford, dies at 95
Former Stanford Daily editor, Business Wire founder, and Giving Pledge member dedicated much of his generosity to Stanford.
Lorry I. Lokey, ’49, a self-made media titan who founded Business Wire and pledged his wealth to Stanford and other philanthropic causes, died on Oct. 1. He was 95.
As a Stanford student, Lokey served as editor-in-chief of the Stanford Daily, the university’s student-run newspaper. As an alum, he helped build a new home for the newspaper and made significant gifts for the fields of journalism, communications, and medicine. He also was passionate about supporting Jewish studies and advancing scientific discoveries in biology, chemistry, and regenerative medicine. With his support, Stanford opened one of the largest stem cell research facilities in North America in 2010.
“I am deeply grateful to Lorry Lokey for his enduring commitment to Stanford and for his sustained and thoughtful generosity to our university,” said President Marc Tessier-Lavigne. “Lorry positively impacted generations of students, faculty, and visiting fellows, and he empowered the university to advance research and education across a number of disparate fields. His generosity has had a profound effect here at Stanford and in our world broadly.”
Lokey signed the Giving Pledge in 2012, joining some of the world’s wealthiest individuals in dedicating at least half of their assets to philanthropy during or after their lifetimes. Lokey went even further, donating nearly all his wealth – more than $800 million.
“If I can’t take it with me, then why not leave it here and enjoy the results?” he said in a 2013 interview. “I have bought myself more happiness in the past 20 years doing this than I ever could have if I had instead spent my money on a boat or jet plane or country club membership.”
Debra Satz, the Vernon R. & Lysbeth Warren Anderson Dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, said Lokey’s philanthropy and service to Stanford were legendary.
“More than anything, Lorry believed in the value of education,” she said. “He brought enthusiasm, warmth, and wit to his engagements with the Stanford community, including as a lifetime member of the Humanities and Sciences Council. We are deeply grateful for the countless ways his generosity touched the lives of so many people.”
Lokey’s giving strategy was to make large investments for long-term impact, particularly in education.
At Stanford, Lokey established numerous graduate fellowships, professorships and visiting professorships, provided support for undergraduate and graduate student reporters, and made gifts to the Stanford Historical Society. His capital investments at Stanford included lead gifts to build the Lorry I. Lokey Laboratory for the Life Sciences, the Lorry I. Lokey Stanford Daily Building, and the Lorry I. Lokey Stem Cell Research Building.
“Through his strategic investments in stem cell research, Lorry made the impossible possible,” said Lloyd Minor, the Carl and Elizabeth Naumann Dean of the School of Medicine. “His support helped Stanford attract the world’s top researchers, who went on to make critical discoveries in treating cancer, diabetes, and neurodegeneration. Simply put, Lorry has helped save and improve countless lives.”
Beyond Stanford, Lokey gave generously to numerous educational, medical, cultural, social, and Jewish Institutions during his lifetime, with a focus on the San Francisco Bay Area, Oregon, and Israel.
Lokey was born in Portland, Oregon, on March 27, 1927. During the Great Depression, his parents almost lost their house after a bank failed and they lost their savings. His father worked two jobs to survive, leaving a lasting impression on Lokey about the value of hard work – he often clocked 60-hour weeks until retiring in his late 70s.
His parents also taught him about generosity. Even during the worst years of the Depression, they donated about 8% of their $2,200 annual income to charities.
“I remember saying to my mother that we can’t afford that. But she said, ‘We have to share with others.’ I learned from that to share,” Lokey recalled.
Inspired by his parent’s example, Lokey began donating 10% of his annual income as soon as he started earning a salary. As a Giving Pledge member, his plan was to give away nearly all of his wealth.
Lokey never forgot what his alma mater taught him: “I owe everything to Stanford for the direction it gave me and what it built me into. The significant thing about Stanford was not what I learned … [it was] how the university develops a person – not just me, but everyone,” he said during an interview for the Stanford Oral History Project in 2011.
He remained active in campus life, serving on the boards of the Stanford Daily in the 1970s and 1980s, and the Humanities and Sciences Council from 1996 to 2021. He also served as chair of his 60th reunion campaign in 2009, the same year he received the Dean’s Medal from the School of Medicine.
Launching a business and giving back
After graduating, Lokey worked a series of jobs in journalism and public relations. In 1959, at the annual meeting of the Public Relations Society of America, he spotted a teletype machine – the kind news wire services employed – being used to send out public relations releases.
“In an instant, I decided I was going to set up a wire in San Francisco,” he said. With his experience in journalism and public relations, and his connections with Bay Area editors, Lokey used $2,000 of his own money to launch Business Wire in 1961. He started with seven clients – all large corporations – and turned a profit after four months.
In 1975, the OPEC oil price hikes and subsequent economic crisis led to a breakthrough for Business Wire.
“People wondered what was going on, they wanted to know what prime rates and certificates of deposit were. As a result, newspapers began putting full-time people in their business sections,” Lokey recalled.
Business Wire was well positioned to take advantage of this demand for information.
In 2006, when he was 79, Lokey sold Business Wire to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway for about $500 million. He then turned his focus to philanthropy and stock market investing.
“There’s an old saying about farmers putting back into the ground via fertilizer what they take out,” he said when he made the Giving Pledge. “So it is with money. The larger the estate, the more important it is to revitalize the soil.”
Lokey is survived by his three daughters, Ann Lokey, Basya Lokey, and Miriam Khalsa, as well as multiple grandchildren and great-grandchildren.