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They did not grow up hearing about OHSU. No OHSU doctor ever saved either of their lives. Ten years ago, Barbara and Phil Silver — newly arrived in Portland from Connecticut — had never even heard of OHSU.

And yet today, the Silvers are among OHSU’s most important supporters. They have helped advance more than a dozen key initiatives, including the Center for Women’s Health, the Center for Health Systems Effectiveness, the Knight Cancer Challenge, the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health and the Gary & Christine Rood Family Pavilion.

So what was it that inspired them to become two of the university’s most committed, hands-on supporters?

According to the Silvers, it all comes down to people. “We’ve been so impressed with the people we’ve met,” said Phil. “That’s what gives us confidence in OHSU.”

Semi-retired and wanting to be close to their sons and their growing families, the Silvers moved to Portland in 2008. As Barbara began looking for new volunteer opportunities, one of the first people she met was Ellen Richardson (wife of Mark Richardson, MD, the OHSU School of Medicine dean who passed away in 2017).

Through Ellen, she became involved with the ARCS Foundation, an organization that sponsors outstanding PhD candidates attending OHSU and other universities. Barbara’s experience with ARCS introduced her to the fascinating research taking place at OHSU, and led her to join the Circle of Giving, which supports women’s health research at OHSU.

Barbara found the Circle of Giving very rewarding. “You get to see clear impact. We give small grants to scientists at the beginning of their career, and they parlay that into more funding from other sources,” she said.

Michelle Berlin, MD, MPH, director of the OHSU Center for Women’s Health, recognizes Barbara as one of her most stalwart supporters. “Barbara’s investments in promising research and generosity with her time are essential to our success,” said Berlin, who also is the Julie Neupert Stott Professor in Women’s Health.

Barbara’s experience with the Circle of Giving led her to explore other areas of OHSU, and soon she was volunteering at the neonatal intensive care unit at OHSU Hospital and attending faculty lectures. Recognizing a committed volunteer who had the potential to do more, the OHSU Foundation asked Barbara to join its board of trustees.

Barbara began an eight-year term on the OHSU Foundation Board of Trustees in January 2013, and has chaired, co-chaired and served on several board committees.

Phil, semi-retired from his role as founder and co-CEO of packaging giant Silgan Holdings Inc., was also looking for ways to engage with his new community. He had enjoyed the intellectual stimulation of running a large enterprise, and now he was ready to focus on innovation in health care.

Again, it was the personal connection that created the philanthropic partnership.

“My interest in OHSU came out of our relationship with Mark and Ellen Richardson. I spent a lot of time talking to Mark about his work as the dean of the School of Medicine. He had an idea about asking people to invest in innovation – not just giving – and that resonated with me,” said Phil.

Knowing Phil’s interest in economics, Mark Richardson arranged for him to meet John McConnell, PhD, the director of OHSU’s Center for Health Systems Effectiveness. McConnell, an economist, was launching a bold research project that would assess whether Oregon’s health care reform initiative was succeeding.

“I was very impressed with John, and fascinated by his research,” said Phil. “We decided to sponsor his work and began meeting with John every couple of months to check on progress. It’s gratifying to see that his work has now gained national recognition.”

The admiration is mutual. “Phil’s personal engagement has been inspiring. He understands what’s at stake and has consistently challenged us to go further, to make sure our analysis is making an impact,” said McConnell.

The Silvers make most of their philanthropic investments through the Silver Family Foundation, which they launched soon after settling in Portland. Sara Merten serves as the executive director and helps to maintain a longterm vision and structure to the foundation’s giving, which includes funding for effective youth development programs throughout the Pacific Northwest. “Phil and Barbara have this wonderful optimism about youth and the power of education and community,” said Merten.

When asked what motivates his philanthropy, Phil said, “We want our children to be positive elements in the community. Both of our sons are trustees of the foundation, and now they are involving their children, too. It’s a family project.”

Barbara added, “We love meeting interesting people, learning new things and joining a community.”

Their philanthropy ranges over many areas, but the ultimate goal is clear. The Silvers have chosen to invest in people and initiatives with a high potential to do good.

Their philanthropy ranges over many areas, but the ultimate goal is clear. The Silvers have chosen to invest in people and initiatives with a high potential to do good.

Just this past summer, the OHSU Foundation and the Silver Family Foundation collaborated to create the Silver Family Innovation Fund, designed to catalyze innovation and impact throughout OHSU and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. The fund will provide targeted grants to stimulate bold thinking and novel approaches to challenges in health policy, research, children and family services and other impact areas. 

“The new fund will foster a robust culture of innovation in all areas of the university, from education to research to clinical care to statewide outreach,” said OHSU President Danny Jacobs, MD, MPH, FACS. “OHSU is fortunate to have farsighted supporters like the Silvers.”

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