Dr. Meyers and Mr. Sullivan © UC Regents
Dr. Fred Meyers has visited Joe Sullivan several times, and the two have become friends. Meyers is moved by Sullivan's life story and generosity.

Joe Sullivan is a man of modest means, a huge heart and an iron-willed determination to help as many people as possible for many years to come. The 84-year-old Sacramento area resident has given his beloved two-bedroom house — "pretty much all I have," he says — to UC Davis Medical Center to help fund medical research.

His retained life estate gift deeded his home to the medical center while allowing him to live there as long as he wants or is able. It's a simple arrangement that allows homeowners to make a powerful, lasting gift to help advance the medical center's mission and work. Sullivan's gift will go to a long-established cancer research fund in the Department of Internal Medicine that has been building slowly but steadily over time, says Frederick Meyers, professor and chair of the department.

"Joe's generous gift puts us over the top," Meyers said. "We're now very close to an endowed professorship for our research fund, so his gift truly has meaning far beyond the monetary value of his estate."

To Sullivan, a tall, lanky man with twinkling eyes and a wealth of stories from a colorful, hardworking life, the retained life estate agreement was a good arrangement for everyone involved. The proceeds from the future sale of his house in one of Northern California's most vibrant real estate markets is a significant gift that will help fund a medical research endowment.

Joe Sullivan's retained life estate gift will help fund a medical research endowment.

"I feel real, real good about it," said Sullivan. "I like the idea of helping people, especially helping the sick. And I like the idea of doing things my way. This is how I chose to take care of this part of my affairs."

Sullivan's gift to UC Davis Medical Center is more than a house and lot. It's the culmination of a lifetime of work that began when he went to work as a 5-year-old in the cotton fields and cornfields of his father's farm in Augusta, Ga. After serving in an African-American U.S. Army regiment in England during World War II, Sullivan settled in California. He worked for and owned several businesses over the years, including a body and fender shop and industrial painting and trucking businesses, before retiring well into his 70s.

How to give

For information about bequests, charitable remainder trusts and gift annuities, please contact Health Sciences Advancement at (916) 734-9400.

Sullivan decided to get his estate in order. Divorced with no children and a scattered family, he wanted to make sure things were, as he puts it, "all tied up." Sullivan wanted to donate his house and land to a cause he deemed worthy.

Sullivan became aware — and deeply moved, he said — of how research at UC Davis Medical Center was having a direct, positive impact on people's lives. He contacted the medical center to discuss his wishes. Representatives from the Health Sciences Advancement department suggested a retained life estate, and he found that it met all of his needs.

Meyers has visited Sullivan several times, and the two have become friends. Meyers said he continues to be moved by Sullivan's life and generosity. "He's one of those people who has seen a lot of the world, both good and bad, yet he has a wonderful, clear-eyed and positive outlook on life and his fellow human beings. His gift is an expression of what a wonderful man he is."