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Gordon Gund was blinded by retinitis pigmentosa in 1970 at the age of 31. He has spent the 45 years since working to defeat that disease, to prevent related blindness and even to restore sight to the blind. Over $700 million later, he now hopes that “within a generation we will be able to eradicate blindness caused by retinal disease!”
In 2013, I first connected with Gordon for a Forbes piece that included a live interview we conducted then.
It is hard to imagine how one copes with the complete loss of one’s vision. Gordon partnered with his wife. He says, “After coming to terms with how our lives would be altered by the disease, my wife and I committed ourselves to a comprehensive research effort that would make something positive for others out of our own difficult experiences.”
“When I was diagnosed with RP almost 50 years ago very little was known about the retina. There was very little research and no evidence-based treatments for retinal disease,” he adds.
Gordon continues, “We recognized that first building a critical mass of sound scientific knowledge about the retina and retinal diseases was essential to finding treatments and cures. That year we teamed with a number of other families affected by retinal disease to create the Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation, now called the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Our collective dream was to drive the research that would find treatments and cures for all retinal degenerative diseases.”
Gordon has been tremendously successful as a capitalist since losing his sight. He is the CEO of Gund Investment Corporation and has at different times owned, among other things, large stakes in professional sports teams, including the Cleveland Cavaliers and the San Jose Sharks.
“I had to learn to live with blindness while working on having a productive and meaningful life in many ways and on many levels,” he says.
Adapting to life without sight created all of the challenges you’d imagine and some you can’t. He chose to meet the challenges head on, learning from them and finding ways to compensate. He says:
After losing my eyesight 46 years ago, I had to learn to accept its finality, come to grips with the real limitations of blindness and creatively and persistently find ways to work around them. In order to do the things I wanted to do and be the person I wanted to be, I have had to overcome these limitations every day. I had to develop and trust my memory and my judgment of people, to learn to ask for and accept help when there is no alternative. I had to learn to better accept failure, to persist through it and to take more calculated risks. I had to become much better at constructive imagining, to become much better organized and be a much better listener. A commitment to the belief that with hard work almost anything is possible has been at the core.
His wife and family deserve some of the credit. “Since [losing my vision] I have continued to be happily married to my wife for more than 50 years. Together, we have raised two wonderful sons who now have terrific families of their own.”
His effort to cure and prevent blindness, however, has been the driving force in his life, he says. “Starting and building the Foundation Fighting Blindness over the past 45 years has helped me focus the frustration of my loss in a positive way. Working with others to drive the increasingly successful FFB research effort to find treatments and cures for blindness means that one day people diagnosed with these diseases will not have to face certain blindness like I did.”
Despite his leadership role in the fight to restore blindness, he shares credit with those who’ve worked with him. “Any success I have had is due first and foremost to the people with whom I live and work. I have been fortunate to be surrounded with people whose capabilities, support, mutual respect and trusted judgment have been fundamental to my building and leading the Foundation Fighting Blindness and many for-profit endeavors including professional sports businesses, as well as in the pursuit of my personal passions of fly fishing, skiing, and sculpting.”
Gordon is now stepping down from his role as Chair of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, which he founded so long ago. He notes, “We’ve come a long way since the time when I originally lost my vision 45 years ago. The many donors to the Foundation Fighting Blindness and their ongoing commitment to fund the best retinal research in the world is inspiring. Thanks to their efforts, the promise of saving and restoring vision is becoming a reality.”
“I’m confident that David Brint, my successor, will continue to lead the Foundation Fighting Blindness in driving momentum in retinal disease research. I am proud of all the progress that we’ve made, but, I also recognize that there is much more work to be done,” he concludes.
On Thursday, July 14, 2016 at 2:00 Eastern, Gordon will join me here for a live interview to discuss his remarkable life, career and impact on the world. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about the Foundation Fighting Blindness:
The Foundation Fighting Blindness is an international non-profit organization driving the research that will lead to preventions, treatments and cures for retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration, Usher syndrome and the entire spectrum of retinal diseases that affect 10 million Americans and millions more worldwide. Since 1971, the Foundation has raised over $700 million as the leading non-governmental funder of inherited retinal disease research. Breakthrough Foundation-funded studies using gene therapies have restored significant vision in children and young adults who were previously blind, paving the way for additional clinical trials to treat a variety of retinal diseases. In addition to its fundraising and grant making efforts, the Foundation has 43 chapters that provide support, information and resources to affected individuals and their families in communities across the country.
Gordon Gund was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1939. The Gunds were a prominent Cleveland family and are multigenerational philanthropists. Gund is a graduate of the Groton School and Harvard University, where he played ice hockey. After college, Gund served in the U.S. Navy.
Gund is the CEO of the Gund Investment Corporation, a corporate finance and venture capital company headquartered in Princeton, New Jersey. Gund has held ownership stakes in numerous professional sports teams including the Minnesota North Stars, the San Jose Sharks and the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Gund lost his sight due to retinitis pigmentosa in 1970 and a year later he co-founded the Retinitis Pigmentosa Foundation – now the Foundation Fighting Blindness. In June of this year, Gund stepped down as the Foundation’s Chairman after serving in that role for 45 years. He remains active in the Foundations governance as a member of the Board of Directors.
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Devin is a journalist, author and speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!