The Life and Legacy of David Koch


On Aug. 23, 2019, billionaire philanthropist David H. Koch died after his long battle with prostate cancer. Despite his death, the impact he made on society will not only remain but continue to grow through the work the David H. Koch Charitable Foundation will do. While many seek to demonize him for political gain, even going so far as to celebrate his death as some sort of victory, his philanthropy stands as testimony to the type of man he truly was.

For those who don’t know, David Koch served as vice president of his family’s business, Koch Industries, which has grown to be the second largest privately owned company in the U.S. He amassed a fortune of around 50 billion dollars. He would have been content living out his life in the lap of luxury if it wasn’t for two events that changed the course of his life. In February 1991, David Koch was at LAX when his plane collided with another on the runway. 35 people were killed, but David survived. His flirtations with death didn’t end there. A year later in 1992, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Realizing his own mortality, he committed himself to making the world around him a better place.

After David Koch started his philanthropy, many of his donations went to medical research, as he had firsthand experience with the horrors of cancer. One of the biggest donations he made was to M.I.T., where he gave $185 million that went to cancer research and improvement of their facilities. Beyond that, he continued to donate to other hospitals and research facilities such as New York-Presbyterian Hospital. His generosity didn’t just extend to the sciences. David Koch gave $100 to the New York State Theater, which was fittingly renamed the David H. Koch Theater afterwards. Here in NOVA, he gave $35 million to the Smithsonian’s Museum of Natural History in D.C. His philanthropy goes far beyond these examples because throughout his life, David Koch had given over a billion dollars to charitable causes. 

Though David Koch may have left this world, he will continue to have a lasting impact on it. The David H. Koch foundation will continue his philanthropic mission long after his death. I think his brother, Charles Koch summed up David’s life best by saying, “The significance of David’s generosity is best captured in the words of Adam Smith, who wrote ‘to indulge our benevolent affections, constitutes the perfections of human nature.’”