A quiet dignity and generous spirit

Joe Sullivan
Mr. Joe Sullivan

Joe Sullivan’s formal education ended in the third grade but, through his generosity, the longtime Sacramento resident who died in 2008 will help lead the search for cutting-cancer treatments now and for years to come.

The grandson of slaves who grew up picking cotton and planting corn in rural Georgia, Sullivan left the UC Davis Health System a $250,000 endowment to fund cancer research and education.

When he died just weeks before his 89th birthday in June of 2008, Fred Meyers, UC Davis executive associate dean for clinical and administrative affairs, was in the early stages of planning a birthday party for his friend. Instead, he began to plan a different kind of celebration – a memorial service at which Sullivan, an active Veterans of For­eign Wars member, would receive a veteran’s burial and California National Guard military honors.

It was a fitting end for a man who started life in humble circumstances, achieved self-made – if modest – success, and in later years displayed a personality remarkable for its quiet dignity and generosity of spirit.

“He was just an honest, straight-shooting guy who wanted to do the right thing for people,” recalled Meyers. “He was really very altruistic.”

Putting money “where people will get some good out of it”

UC Davis Cancer Center

UC Davis Cancer CenterDesignated by the National Cancer Institute, UC Davis Cancer Center cares for 9,000 adults and children each year from throughout the Central Valley and inland Northern California. The center is dedicated to advancing cancer discoveries, eliminating cancer disparities, enriching the lives of patients and their families, and supporting community members interested in learning more about cancer risks, prevention, early detection and research.

For more information, visit www.ucdmc.ucdavis.edu/cancer.

One of 10 children and the grandson of slaves, Sullivan grew up in Georgia. Though his formal education ended with the third grade, he later took adult night-school classes. He spent most of his early years picking cotton, planting corn and potatoes, and plowing the earth behind a mule.

Sullivan served in the U.S. Army 987 Quartermaster Service Company, an African American unit that fought in Europe during World War II. He then started a small trucking business. He arrived in the Sacramento area in the late 1950s, and in 1963 bought a small parcel of land in Del Paso Heights for $1,500. He built a small stucco house on the half-acre lot for $20,000 in 1979.

Four years ago, Sullivan decided that, upon his death, he wanted his entire estate to fund cancer research at UC Davis Health System. Divorced and childless, Sullivan explained at the time: “Why not put the money someplace where people will get something good out of it?”

Committed to quality cancer care and research

Now that he’s is gone, the university will carry out his wishes. The property, which has an estimated value of $250,000, will be sold and an interest-bearing account in Sullivan’s name will be established and used in perpetuity to fund cancer research and educa­tion under the direction of Meyers.

“Joe Sullivan really got the vision about how important it is to educate our young physicians and train the next generation of faculty to offer the best and most compassionate care for cancer patients,” Meyers said.