I have known (or known of) Malin Burnham since I moved to San Diego in 1978. I am an immigrant–at least that’s how Malin described those of us who have actively chosen San Diego as our home at an event held to honor him at the San Diego Foundation this week. Malin and his family have made a gift of $5 million to establish the Malin Burnham Center for Civic Engagement. According to the Foundation, the Center will mobilize the San Diego region in the quest for solutions to community issues.
Malin is no stranger to quests. He joked at the ceremony that he has tried to move the airport 14 different times. As the planes taking off directly over Liberty Station punctuated the speeches with awkward pauses, I had to hope that he has a 15th try in him. Malin has been at the forefront, or behind the scenes, at almost every important moment in San Diego’s recent history. Whether it’s education reform, border issues, building the innovation economy, or San Diego’s stature as a world-class sailing venue, Malin has brought a great many people along with him on his civic journey.
In the years I worked with the San Diego Regional Economic Development Corporation (of which Malin is a past chair–I think he has chaired every San Diego civic organization at least once), if there was a new initiative to be launched or a rallying cry needed, Malin was the first one we thought of as a spokesperson.
Malin inspires people. A few years ago, at an event featuring Richard Florida, author of The Creative Class, my high school-age son and a friend of his were interns at different organizations who had both been dispatched to attend the program. Malin was a panelist. Next to his name on the agenda, my son’s friend had written a note to him: “This guy’s a big deal.” How did she know that at barely 16? It doesn’t matter, she did.
Now I work at Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute. It’s like I’ve been moving up the chain of Malin Burnham levels of engagement and have reached a new high. Here, the significance of Malin’s reference to immigrants is clear. Not only did our founders relocate to San Diego from the east coast, but our 1,000 employees here include people from 47 different countries. Malin says immigrants have made San Diego what it is today. I think Malin Burnham has helped San Diego become what it is today.
Andrea Moser is Vice President of Communications at Sanford-Burnham.