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Dr. George Boone, 1923 - 2008

Major Southland philanthropist

August 17, 2008|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Dr. George Boone, an orthodontist turned real estate developer and leading Southern California philanthropist who helped establish the Boone Children's Gallery at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and a recently completed USC center on Santa Catalina Island dedicated to the study of environmental science, has died. He was 85.

Boone died Tuesday of Parkinson's disease at his longtime home in San Marino, said his wife, MaryLou.

The Boone name can be found on buildings and programs throughout the state dedicated to education and the arts, the legacy of someone who was "very humble . . . and interested in a whole array of opportunities that would leave the world better than he found it," said Harold Slavkin, dean of the USC School of Dentistry. Slavkin held a chair that the couple endowed at the dental school and became a close friend.

In 2000, the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery at the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in San Marino opened in a carriage house that was converted into a venue for temporary exhibitions after the Boones donated $3.6 million.

At Pasadena City College, which Boone had attended, the Boone Sculpture Garden was completed in 1999 in the heart of the campus. The garden was named for his parents, George and Fern Boone, who raised him in Pasadena.

USC was an early recipient of his largess, reflecting his philosophy of giving back to an institution that he said "certainly did well by me."

A 1946 graduate of USC's dental school, Boone donated widely to USC causes, including real estate to support a dental school renovation that included a state-of-the-art orthodontic clinic.

In March, USC's George and MaryLou Boone Center for Science and Environmental Leadership was dedicated. The university bills the complex as a "Camp David for the environment," where world-class scientists can stay in elegant hillside houses that overlook USC's marine science center.

The couple made their first major donation, to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, in 1983. That was the year they founded the Boone Family Foundation, which is now run by Nick Boone, one of their three children.

"As my wife and I became more comfortable with our own role in the foundation, I began to realize the benefit that this entity could have on our children," George Boone wrote in an article on the Council on Foundations website.

Jane Burrell, LACMA's vice president for education and public programs, said Boone "really had a vision for making the museum accessible and welcoming for families."

When LACMA was named one of the top 10 art museums in the country for children in a 2006 survey by Child magazine, "a large part of the credit for that was due to George's vision" for the interactive Boone Children's Gallery, she said. "He was extraordinary."

George Nicholas Boone was born July 6, 1923, in McPherson, Kan. His father was a school principal who died when his son was about 20.

After earning his dental degree, Boone worked as a Navy dentist on a military base in China following World War II. Returning to USC, he earned a master's degree in 1951.

His future mother-in-law met Boone at a dental function; her husband was also a dentist. She pointed out that her daughter was studying dental hygiene at USC -- and taking a class Boone taught. The former MaryLou Openshaw married Boone in 1952.

For about 20 years, he practiced orthodontics in the Pasadena area, but after developing a cataract, Boone worried that it would affect the depth perception required in orthodontic work.

In the 1970s, he became a real estate developer, creating industrial building and office parks in Santa Fe Springs and the San Gabriel Valley.

"At the time he got into it, Santa Fe Springs was an old oil field and land was being sold at the intersection of the 605 and 5 freeways," his wife said. "It turned out to be quite a good location."

About two decades ago, Boone turned to his third, and favorite, career -- philanthropy. His daughter Lynda Boone Fetter and her husband, Blaine Fetter, took over the real estate business.

When he decided to start giving back, Boone's "initial direction was to focus on big gifts, make a big difference with a few important organizations and become personally involved in the process," he wrote on the Council on Foundations website.

"Writing checks is very boring," he once said. "If I get interested in something, I want to be involved."

Together, the Boones have served as trustees for at least a dozen museums, universities and colleges.

In his backyard, Boone kept what he called his "Boone Garden of Sculptures," a 50-piece collection that often showcased emerging artists.

"He thought that maybe his orthodontic training was a reason he was so interested in sculpture," his wife said. "He was used to looking three-dimensionally at a profile."

To help children connect to the art, Boone allowed them to climb on the sturdier sculptures.

In addition to his wife, son and daughter, Boone is survived by another daughter, Suzanne Boone; a sister, Jeanne Boone Tappan; and six grandchildren.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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