Brown Family Leaves Lasting Legacy on UA, Community

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By Amanda Ballard, University Relations - Communications August 28, 2014

Over the years, the Thomas R. Brown Foundations have gifted more than $26.6 million to the UA.

(Photo credit: Chris Mooney)

(Photo credit: Chris Mooney)

Strategically investing in the community is how Sarah Smallhouse is working to ensure a brighter future.

Smallhouse's father was Thomas R. Brown, founder Thomas R. Brown Foundations, a philanthropic organization for which Smallhouse now serves as president.

Over the years, the foundation has contributed more than $26.6 million in gifts to the UA. For Smallhouse, it's all about giving back to the community that enabled the success of the company her father founded, Burr-Brown Corporation.

"We're trying to nurture the system that allowed not only our family, but the whole community to prosper," she said. "The UA has absolutely been an integral and critical part of that."

Through endowments, the Thomas R. Brown Foundations have supported the UA in areas such as engineering, business and science, and in support of various aspects of campus life like scholarships, research, faculty and the new engineering innovation building.

"The Brown Foundations have been philanthropic leaders in Tucson, and their generosity toward the University is tremendous," said James H. Moore, Jr., president and CEO of the UA Foundation.

Brown was one of Arizona's most successful businessmen. After earning a general engineering degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MBA from Harvard, and serving in the Navy during WWII, he moved to Tucson with his wife, Helen. It was in Tucson that he built the electronics manufacturing company, Burr-Brown Corporation, which later sold to Texas Instruments.

"My dad always said he never really set out to make money," Smallhouse said. "He just wanted to build things that would benefit mankind. The wealth that accumulated was a byproduct of his success, and reinvesting it in education – thereby creating career opportunity for others and progress in technology and innovation – continues to serve that goal."

Brown died in 2002, but his legacy lives on thanks to the positive impacts he left on the Tucson community through the Thomas R. Brown Foundations. Smallhouse leads the Thomas R. Brown Foundations with her sister, Mary Bernal.

Smallhouse joined the UA Foundation's Board of Trustees in 2007, and last year served as its chair. She also is co-chair of Arizona NOW, the UA's $1.5 billion comprehensive fundraising campaign.

"We are deeply appreciative of Sarah's dedication, vision and service," Moore said. "It is an honor to work with her on behalf of the University of Arizona."

Smallhouse said the UA was closely tied to the Burr-Brown Corporation from its beginning.

"In the early days, product ideas and technical expertise were coming from the UA," Smallhouse said. "As the company grew, many employees went to the University, got educated, all the while continuing to work at the company. The trustees of the Brown Foundations feel very strongly about supporting things that can help re-create the conditions for success stories like Burr-Brown."

Most recently, the foundation has contributed a $2.5 million to seed the Tech Launch Arizona Catapult Fund, also known as Cat Corp. (Read more about Cat Corp in this UANews article.)

Multiple scholarships have also been generously funded by the Thomas R. Brown Foundations. In 2010, $2 million was donated to the Arizona Assurance Scholarship Endowment, a financial aid program that provides four-year scholarships to qualifying Arizona students. The foundations also support Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Scholarships in the colleges of engineering and business. Last year, there were fifteen engineering students and eight Eller students named Thomas R. Brown Distinguished Scholars.

The foundation also supports UA faculty through five Thomas R. Brown Endowed Chairs, two at the Eller College of Management, two in the College of Science, and one in the College of Engineering.

Eller College of Management Regents' Professor Hsinchun Chen, director of the UA Artificial Intelligence Lab, holds the Thomas R. Brown Chair in Management and Technology. He said the endowment helped provide important backing for his research on cybersecurity.

"It has been a great honor for me to be selected as the Thomas R. Brown Endowed Chair in Technology and Management in 2013," Chen said. "The endowment has supported and expanded my research and education roles in the high-impact cybersecurity and health informatics areas. The Brown Foundation is the embodiment of a leading charitable organization in Arizona that helps support technology innovation and maximizes community impact."

"The Thomas R. Brown Foundation has inspired and enhanced the role of the UA as a science, engineering and technology development leader," said Linda Powers, professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who holds the Thomas R. Brown Chair in Bioengineering.

"The foundation has encouraged the best students from Arizona and the entire U.S. to study here by providing very competitive scholarships," Powers said. "This combination of creativity with motivated and talented students has proved explosive and continues to produce new ideas and technology development initiatives that benefit Tucson, the state of Arizona, and the entire U.S. I am honored to be a part of this."

Looking toward the future, Smallhouse said she believes the Thomas R. Brown Foundations will continue to invest at the UA.

"We're always going to be interested in ways to support those things that will make life better for the most people," Smallhouse said. "When you look at it that way, it's very hard to get away from education. Education is at the core of opportunity and quality of life."

For more information about the Thomas R. Brown Foundations, visit brownfoundations.org. To learn more about the Arizona NOW campaign, click here.

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