Peter Gruber, a businessman who donated generously to various entities in the Virgin Islands and around the world, died Saturday after a long illness, with his wife Patricia at his side.
He was born in 1929.
Gruber, who owned Globalvest Management Co. until he closed it in 2007 and retired, provided major funding for Peter Gruber International Academy, the upper school at V.I. Montessori School on St. Thomas.
Head of school Michael Bornn, said he first connected with Gruber when he gave him one of the thousands of mahogany trees he planted after Hurricane Hugo wiped out a lot of the island’s trees in 1989.
“It became the cornerstone of our relationship,” Bornn said.
Bornn said that when he first floated the idea of extending Montessori School’s grades beyond six, Gruber expanded his idea to make it an international academy. The school opened five years ago.
He said Gruber had an analytical mind and was very bright.
“You had to be on you’re A game when you dealt with Peter,” Bornn said.
Gruber’s focus on education included establishing the annual Laws of Life essay competition for high school students, emphasizing values and ethics. The foundation also funded scholarships at Antilles School.
“He was someone who really cared about young people and put his fortune behind it,” St. Thomas resident Elliott “Mac” Davis said.
He said Gruber opened eyes to a degree of human creativity that he would not otherwise have known.
“He was a really amazing guy,” Davis said.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. said Gruber was an incredible individual, recognized internationally for his philanthropic commitment to making the world a better place.
“His strong attachment to the Virgin Islands was well-known by his friends and associates, and was manifested in support for programs for local children. We extend our deepest sympathies to Peter’s wife Patricia, his children Ron and Vicki and their families, and his many friends and admirers throughout the world,” deJongh said.
Gruber funneled his early philanthropic efforts through the Peter and Patricia Gruber Foundation, founded in 1993. It continues to support projects such as The Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center in Cambridge, Mass., and the Afghan Institute of Learning in Dearborn, Mich.
In 2011, he funded the Gruber Foundation at Yale University with what the foundation’s website describes as a landmark contribution. It’s dedicated to the advancement of science, support of young scientists, global justice, and women’s rights.
Born in Budapest to Jewish parents, Gruber and his family escaped to India in 1939, three months before World War II engulfed Europe. He was educated in the Himalayas by Irish Christian Brothers and Jesuits, sparking a lifelong dedication to scholarship and human rights. He later attended college in Australia. He then came to the United States, where he launched a successful investment career.
“At a small investment brokerage, my job was to contact potential investors,” he said in a YouTube video about his philanthropy.
A two-year stint in the U.S. Army’s financial corps followed. In the video he said the Army assumed he was smart about financial matters.
“It turns out I was,” he said.
He also studied Buddhism and eventually moved to New York City, where he founded the Oriental Studies foundation. The foundation sponsored the translation and publication in English of Tibetan texts.
He worked in New York’s financial arena. Business in Argentina increased his knowledge of emerging markets, and he eventually opened Globalvest Management with offices on St. Thomas and in Brazil.
“I did very well but I had a measure of personal luck,” he said in the video.
According to its website, the Gruber Foundation has three initiatives. They are the Gruber Prizes and the Young Scientists Awards, the Gruber Science Fellowship Program at Yale and the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women’s Rights at Yale Law School.
The Gruber Foundation will continue to award three $500,000 Gruber Prizes each year in the physical and life sciences, including a Cosmology Prize, a Genetics Prize, and a Neuroscience Prize, and maintain the Gruber Young Scientists Awards. Considered among the most prestigious awards in the sciences, the prizes honor contemporary individuals whose groundbreaking work provides new models that inspire and enable fundamental shifts in knowledge. Recipients are chosen by independent prize selection panels comprised of experts active in the respective fields. The members of the panels are in turn selected by independent, non-governmental organizations.
The Gruber Foundation also supports the training of new leaders within these key science disciplines through the Gruber Science Fellowship Program at Yale. Providing $2.5 million annually, the program will initially provide approximately 50 graduate fellowships each year.
Additionally, the Gruber Foundation established the Gruber Program for Global Justice and Women’s Rights at Yale Law School.