Updated at 6:03 p.m. July 25, 2016
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Tributes poured in Monday upon word of the death of developer and philanthropist Conrad Prebys, a generous financial backer of San Diego organizations and entities, including the zoo and educational and medical facilities.Prebys, who had cancer, died Sunday at Scripps Mercy Hospital with his family by his side, according to a statement released by his family. He was 82.
Prebys’ philanthropic endeavors included health care, medical research, music, theater, youth services and wildlife preservation.
Raised in a working-class neighborhood of South Bend, Indiana, Prebys developed a heart condition at the age of 8 that forced him to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle, so he learned to play piano and developed an appreciation of the arts.
He later graduated from Indiana University and made a fortune in real estate and construction.
His philanthropy has made the Prebys name nearly ubiquitous in San Diego, from a major cardiovascular care center in La Jolla to a student union at San Diego State University and a major exhibit at the San Diego Zoo. His name also adorns the Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute in La Jolla.
“Conrad was an extraordinarily generous man and we are privileged to have been a recipient of his thoughtful and giving spirit, which touched all parts of San Diego,” said Perry Nisen, the institute’s CEO.
Scientists and staff send “sincere condolences” to his family and friends, according to a statement from SBP.
More tributes to Prebys came from other beneficiaries of his giving, along with local political leaders.
“The entire Scripps Health family is deeply saddened by the loss of Conrad Prebys,” a statement from the healthcare provider said. “It’s impossible to overstate the important role that he played in supporting our organization and the entire San Diego region.”
Prebys was “a dear friend and a steadfast supporter” of UCSD for many years, Chancellor Pradeep Khosla said.
“Conrad touched so many lives through his generosity and kindness, and has left a lasting impact on our campus, our community and our world,” Khosla said.
“We will miss him immensely and cherish his legacy,” the chancellor said. “From his support that created the Conrad Prebys Music Center at UC San Diego to his philanthropic gifts that benefited health sciences and many other fields and organizations, he improved the quality of life of our campus and community members and forever changed the landscape of San Diego.”
SDSU President Elliot Hirshman said Prebys “touched and ennobled” everyone he met, adding his “contagious optimism and selfless generosity have forever changed our campus and the entire San Diego region.”
“His name and his legacy will live on at San Diego State University in the Conrad Prebys Aztec Student Union, the thousands of students who will receive Conrad Prebys’ scholarships, the Conrad Prebys Center for Viromics Research and the Conrad Prebys Chair for Bio-medical Research,” Hirshman said. “The entire San Diego State University community mourns the loss of a treasured friend and supporter.”
Mayor Kevin Faulconer said: “Through his enormous generosity and deep kindness, Conrad Prebys changed San Diego for the better time and time again.”
“His long list of philanthropic pursuits — from scientific research to arts and culture to college scholarships — have left an indelible mark on countless lives and will continue to do so for generations to come,” Faulconer said. “He will forever be known as one of San Diego’s finest.”
San Diego City Councilman Todd Gloria tweeted that he was deeply saddened by Prebys’ death, calling him “a true gentleman” and “generous benefactor.”
“Many of our civic treasures are better because of him,” Gloria said.
A family statement said survivors include Prebys’ “life partner,” Debbie Turner.
Memorial services were not immediately announced.
Other tributes poured in.
— City News Service contributed to this report.
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