The 9th grade dropout giving away millions in Florida

Ash Jurberg

Herbert "Herbie" Wertheim has led a very interesting life.

I write a lot about business leaders and entrepreneurs, but few have done as much as Herbie Wertheim.

He grew up in a disadvantaged home, dropped out of high school in ninth grade, and avoided the Miami Juvenile Detention System for truancy by joining the US Navy at the age of 17.

After leaving the navy, Herbie studied first at Eastern Florida State College and then at the University of Florida. After graduation, he worked as an electronics engineer at NASA, where he became friends with the original seven astronauts, including my lasting friend John Glenn. While there, he realized he was interested in the eye and the brain and received a State of Florida scholarship to get a doctorate in optometry.

In 1970 Wertheim founded Brain Power Inc, a manufacturer of optical tints for eyeglasses, many of which he has invented and holds the patent to.

His success has led to a net worth of $3.9 billion. And he has promised to give it away.

Philanthropy and the Giving Pledge

In 2015, Wertheim signed the Giving Pledge, in which he promised to give away the majority of his fortune while he was still alive.

In particular, he is passionate about education and supporting public institutions.

Many of America’s private universities have more than 20 times the endowments of most public institutions of higher learning, and our state legislators are decreasing funding to these public institutions that needs to be made up by private funding. The Wertheim family’s talent, time and energy will be dedicated to The Wertheim Family Foundation’s future efforts to support the endowments of public universities and colleges.”

Some of his donations include:

Each year my wife Nicole and I, along with our two daughters, Erica Wertheim Zohar and Vanessa Von Wertheim, both Foundation members, dedicate substantial time and talent to support the Foundation's awarding and fundraising efforts for more than a hundred scholarships, fellowships, professorships, and financial aid programs in medicine, nursing and related healthcare, performing arts and engineering, including the most recent Million Dollar Horatio Alger Engineering Scholarship Program at the University of Florida.

He also heavily supports the following organizations via his family foundation:

  • The Muscular Dystrophy Association
  • South Miami Hospital
  • United Way
  • American Red Cross
  • Cystic Fibrosis
  • The Miami Zoo

It's an inspiring story- from truant and dropout to inventor, billionaire, and philanthropist.

Readers, what do you think of his story? And what other Florida organizations would you like to see Wertheim support?

Please leave your comments below.

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