Murray Johnston had an eye for the future. And knew a thing or two about horticulture. To be precise, the former agriculture inspector for Los Angeles County believed avocados would be big business in the years after he took over his father's 20-acre citrus ranch in 1943.
Johnston followed his hunch and strategically began replacing the lemon groves on the Fallbrook, California, property with avocado trees in the seasons that followed.
His decision paid off. Just as he thought, the avocado industry took off soon after, which provided Johnston the opportunity to comfortably retire by the mid 1970s — well before his passing in 1996.
"He was very good at what he did and a good businessman," says Murray's son, Robert Johnston, who recently awarded a portion of his father's trust to the Salk Institute. "As it turned out, Fallbrook was one of the best places in the world to grow avocados."
Murray Johnston also had an eye for philanthropy, splitting his trust among Salk, UCLA (his alma mater) and UCSD. His relationship with the Institute began after meeting Ray R. Ramseyer who managed estate planning at the time for the Salk. Over the years, Murray visited the Institute and became an active donor, a portion of his gifts went toward cancer research, while the majority were unrestricted funds that provided immediate resources for needs that are of top priority.
"Salk was definitely his favorite [beneficiary]," Robert says. "It was something he wanted to do for society. He had an accumulation of money and wanted to do something good with it."