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A California financier emerges as one of the nation’s most prolific philanthropists

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Osher does not do press interviews, though he sat down for a conversation after answering written questions submitted to him via Foundation President Mary Bitterman. Though “quiet” may accurately describe the style of this Maine-borne philanthropist, he is also engaging, cordial, and direct.

Osher has engendered enormous respect within the communities targeted by his foundation and was labeled last year the 11th most generous philanthropist in the world by BusinessWeek, which put his giving at more than $800 million. In 2006, according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, he granted the foundation that bears his name $732 million, the third largest individual gift of the year in the US.

And there is more beneficence to come. Osher intends to give away all his fortune, explaining: “Although I have no heirs, I can enjoy the opportunity of helping members of several generations lead more fulfilling lives by my contributions.”

Among those in that growing category of people is Geoffrey Mitchell, a sophomore at the University of California, Berkeley. Geoffrey’s high school, the charter Leadership High School in San Francisco, nominated him for an Osher-backed program that provides low-income students $32,000 to attend Berkeley for four years. Geoffrey is studying wildlife ecology and biology, and hopes to find ways to raise awareness of the environment among minorities.

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