The Billion Dollar Hei$t

This is one in a series of stories about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s landmark achievements, which continue to inspire us as we address future challenges.

“There is no area of social responsibility more important than the care of the sick and the injured, and I think it best to confine my Foundation to the area of healing.”

That was Robert Wood Johnson’s defining directive. We’ve remained loyal to it for over 40 years.

Johnson—known as “the General” ever since he secured the commission of brigadier general in World War II—retained a laser-like focus on health and health care throughout his life. His passion was fueled in part by a tough childhood bout with rheumatic fever, which left him with an enlarged heart and repeated adult hospitalizations. Johnson learned firsthand the worst of health care. That is, hospitals are noisy and frighteningly inefficient; doctors don’t know as much as you think they do; and nurses are the key to better patient care.

In December 1971, the Foundation emerged as a national philanthropy, thanks to Johnson's bequest of 10,204,377 shares of Johnson & Johnson common stock, which translated into about $1.2 billion dollars. (On a somewhat humorous note, the day the New York Times broke the story of our founding, a burglar broke into our then-headquarters in a small house in New Brunswick, N.J., apparently expecting to steal the money. Alas, foundations don’t leave billions of dollars lying around.)

We’ve grown considerably since then, but one thing remains the same: we continue to remain loyal to the General’s vision.