Remembering Henry H. “Sam” Wheeler, Jr.

Posted on Dec 1, 2015

Remembering Henry H. “Sam” Wheeler, Jr.

1927 – 2015

Henry H. “Sam” Wheeler Jr., who was President of Park Water Company from 1973 until 2011, and a devoted philanthropist, principally for medical research, died peacefully in his sleep in late September at his home in Southern California. Upon the news of his passing, current Park Water CEO Chris Schilling delivered the following tribute to the company’s employees, both in California and Montana:

“Many of you worked with Sam for many years, and knew him as a man with tremendous intellectual curiosity, across a variety of subjects, both common as well as some quite unique. He nurtured Park Water and most notably its staff, as a father, mentor and benevolent boss. While a history major in college, his love and comprehension of science impressed and overwhelmed world renowned experts, many of whom would say they owe a large portion of their own success to Sam’s inspirations and his generous charitable giving to various science foundations. He will be missed by all.”

Sam Wheeler with His Children Hugh (left) and Nyri (right)

Sam Wheeler with His Children Hugh (left) and Nyri (right)

Among his many philanthropic contributions, Sam was the founding donor and namesake for two University of California, Berkeley, institutions, the Henry Wheeler Center for Emerging & Neglected Diseases (CEND) and the Wheeler Institute for Water Law and Policy (Wheeler Institute). Michael Kiparsky, Associate Director at the Wheeler Institute, said, “Sam Wheeler’s impact on California water will continue through his support of research at UC Berkeley School of Law’s Wheeler Institute for Water Law & Policy.

“Sam Wheeler had the vision to support Berkeley Law’s targeted research and engagement on pressing water issues,” Kiparsky said. “Sam’s deep interest in science, and of course his wealth of knowledge about water resources in California, are continually reflected in our work, much of which focuses at the intersection between science and policy. Further, Sam’s ability to draw connections between disparate topics, and his continual refusal to be constrained by conventional wisdom, provide ongoing inspiration for us.”

CEND posted the following tribute on its website [reprinted in part with permission from CEND]

Sam Wheeler was born in California in 1927. Ten years later, his father, Henry H. Wheeler Sr., founded the Park Water Company, headquartered in Downey, California, and this became the family business. At the end of World War II, Sam entered college at UCLA and went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. When his father died, Sam succeeded him as the President of Park Water Company and under his leadership, it grew into a well-regarded and successful utility supplying a population of about 270,000 people in the communities of Norwalk, Bellflower, Compton, Lynwood, Willowbrook, Artesia, and Santa Fe Springs in southeastern Los Angeles and, through subsidiaries, the Town of Apple Valley in San Bernardino County and the City of Missoula in Montana.

Sam always loved science and his scientific curiosity was both intense and wide-ranging. He was a natural autodidact who could read up on a topic quickly, gaining a deep understanding. It was that curiosity and ability to understand its subtleties that prompted Sam to engage with science in the most meaningful way he could; through philanthropy.

Sam provided the seed funding that established CEND. Prior to its formation, the Berkeley campus had few organizational structures dedicated to promoting cross-disciplinary research collaborations in specific areas of biomedical science such as infectious disease. Sam quickly recognized the benefits that could accrue if CEND succeeded. His pledge has ensured the continued growth and development of CEND.

Sam was fascinated by the technology of structural biology. The late Tom Alber, then the Director of CEND, took Sam on a tour of the Advanced Light Source at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab where he was in charge of the UCB/UCSF beam lines. When Sam heard that resolution could be improved with the addition of a new detector module, he helped provide the funding necessary for its purchase.

Sam also enabled the creation of the Wheeler Brain Imaging Center and the purchase of the first of its fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) systems. This was a prescient gift that allowed our campus quickly to become a leader in the burgeoning field of brain imaging. Sam also gave to the UC Berkeley’s School of Law to establish an Institute for Water Law and Policy, which now bears his name.

UC San Francisco has also benefited from Sam’s generosity. The Wheeler Center for the Neurobiology of Addiction, under the direction of Professor Howard Fields, has contributed significantly to our knowledge of the neural mechanisms that underlie addiction, and their regulation.

Sam also provided direct support for the research of several UC faculty members interested in water purity. These included, at UC Berkeley, Professor Arpad Horvath in Engineering, Professor Tyrone Hayes in Integrative Biology, and at UC Santa Barbara, Professor Patricia Holden.

Sam’s philanthropic philosophy was based on his belief that innovative science is done by scientists who have innovative minds. Accordingly, his purpose was always to support “the boots on the ground” as he put it; i.e., the scientists who do the research. He would achieve this either by directly funding their research or by enhancing the technological and/or intellectual environment in which that research was performed. Despite his generosity, he was a self-effacing man who wanted no memorials, no chairs in his name, no Wheeler buildings or facilities. Indeed, according to Geoff Owen, former Dean of Biological Sciences and advisor to CEND, we had to twist Sam’s arm to allow us to name our center after him.

Sam was a highly engaged and interested supporter of CEND, and he will be sorely missed.

California Water Association’s condolences are extended to Sam’s family and the employees of Park Water Company and Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company.