Commodity trader bet on longer human lifespans4 min read . Updated: 23 Oct 2020, 02:26 PM IST
Paul Glenn, who donated $100 million to research aimed at keeping people vigorous in old age, has died at age 89
Paul Glenn, a philosophy major at Princeton University, in 1951 noticed a magazine article about research by Thomas S. Gardner, a scientist at the U.S. arm of Swiss drug company F. Hoffmann-La Roche, into what Dr. Gardner saw as possible ways of extending human lifespans to 120 years or more.
The idea resonated with Mr. Glenn, who was troubled by the deteriorating health of a great grandmother and his grandparents. He drove to Nutley, N.J., to meet Dr. Gardner and began a lifelong quest for ways to slow the aging process, even as he completed a law degree at Harvard University and embarked on a career in commodity trading, energy investments and venture capital.
Mr. Glenn’s investment earnings allowed him to create the Glenn Foundation for Medical Research and provide more than $100 million for research on aging at institutions including Harvard, Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Salk Institute for Biological Studies and the Mayo Clinic, according to the foundation.
While riding the markets up and down for decades, Mr. Glenn kept in mind what he called the big picture—“that I was going to die some day and what happened to my grandparents was going to happen to me."
He began suffering minor strokes a dozen years ago and needed a wheelchair for the past several years. He died Sept. 29 of pneumonia, unrelated to Covid-19, at the age of 89, said K. Leonard Judson, chief executive of the foundation.
Despite his fixation on aging, Mr. Glenn lived joyfully, friends said. He wore loud colors and treated ice cream and pie as exceptions from an otherwise life-prolonging diet. He reveled in a garden including cycads, agaves and bunya trees. “You will never see me plant a rosebush," he vowed.
In a biographical note for Princeton alumni, Mr. Glenn summed up his preoccupations: “I regard healthy human life as a wonderful but tragically brief experience."
Paul Foss Glenn, an only child, was born Nov. 9, 1930, in Sharon, Pa., about 70 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. His father owned a lumberyard, where young Paul got early work experience.
He graduated from boarding school at Phillips Exeter Academy before enrolling at Princeton University. At 5-foot-9 and 125 pounds, he considered himself too small to be a jock. “Hence, I was automatically a grind," he wrote. He majored in philosophy and later regretted his lack of scientific learning. “Princeton," he concluded, “trained me to be a 19th-century gentleman."
Harvard trained him to be a lawyer—and convinced him he had no desire to be one. While working on his law degree, he co-founded the Bull and Bear investment club and discovered commodity trading. An early killing on zinc futures cemented his view that commodities were the fastest way to get rich.
He went to work for Dean Witter & Co. in New York, helped food processors hedge their raw-material costs and traded for his own account. In 1965, he set up his foundation. The goal was to study preventive medicine, including diet and exercise, and conduct research in molecular biology to understand the causes of cell death. “This type of research is very slow, very expensive and very necessary," he wrote in an update for Princeton alumni.
He left Wall Street in 1973 and lived first in Scottsdale, Ariz., and later in Santa Barbara, Calif., where he continued to manage his own investments.
In a 1977 note to alumni, he complained about taxes on investment earnings: “The risks and time consumed do not justify playing the business game as a vocation for a 30% after-tax return. As a hobby for enjoyment, yes, but I have other hobbies." He donated to the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank.
A lack of breakthroughs in the quest for longer spans of healthy life frustrated him at times. In 2009, Mr. Glenn told an interviewer he was ingesting resveratrol, a substance found in grapes and various plants that some researchers thought might slow the aging process, but it didn’t live up to early hopes. More recently he was encouraged by research into ways to prolong life at Calico Life Sciences, funded by Alphabet Inc.
He tried to keep tabs on how his money was spent. Two decades ago, he sued the University of Southern California for alleged misuse of his gift of $1.6 million for research on aging. The suit was settled in 2004. “There’s got to be a quid pro quo here," he told the New York Times. “This is not a donation. It’s a contract, and both parties have to live up to it."
Mr. Glenn kept fit partly through what a friend called high-speed golf. He pulled his own cart. He took vitamins, managed without coffee and drank very little alcohol.
Though he had long-term female companions, he never married or had children. In his early 30s, he told Princeton alumni he was still awaiting a proposal from a “beautiful, intelligent, wealthy young lady."
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