“Caltech takes smart risks, which is something that appeals to me if the goal is excellence,” Hummer-Tuttle says. “There’s a certain fearlessness. We want to be part of this worthy endeavor.”
The couple’s unrestricted gift will give Caltech’s president more flexibility to respond to timely opportunities. Recently, such no-strings-attached philanthropy has allowed campus leaders to seed-fund what are now thriving Caltech enterprises, such as the Institute for Quantum Information and Matter, a space-based solar power research initiative, and the Center for Teaching, Learning, and Outreach.
“Unfettered resources are key to Caltech’s success,” says President Thomas F. Rosenbaum, holder of the Sonja and William Davidow Presidential Chair and professor of physics. “They permit the Institute to attract remarkable scholars and empower them to ask the big questions. This gift from Maria and Robert, and their efforts to promote Caltech within their community, highlight their enduring dedication to the Institute.”
Hummer-Tuttle, a former partner at Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, studied literature, art, and law, so she was surprised when Caltech trustees invited her to join the board in 2012. But just as they anticipated, she brings a valuable perspective.
“The outreach to different kinds of folks looking for what they can contribute is so successful at Caltech,” Hummer-Tuttle says.
While the board now feels like family, the couple continues to be awed by Caltech research. “Like Maria, I’m a layperson with no science background—a few science courses in high school, and far removed from them,” Tuttle says. “Every time we go to an event, I sit next to a scientist and hear some amazing thing that they’re doing. The association—and the exposure to incredibly creative and smart people—has been very special for me.”
Tuttle is co-managing partner of the Tuttle-Click Automotive Group and has held political roles since the Reagan administration. He was appointed U.S. Ambassador to the Court of St. James’s in 2005. “Anyplace you go in the world, if you say, ‘I’m involved with Caltech,’ they know what you’re talking about,” he says.
Now, the two are ambassadors for Caltech, aiming to get West L.A. better acquainted with the research institution in its backyard. During the couple’s four years in the U.K., they heard more about Caltech and its transformational discoveries than they ever had at home in Los Angeles.
“A lot of folks here don’t know as much about Caltech as we wish they did,” Hummer-Tuttle says. She finds that many friends know one or two things about Caltech—for example, that it runs JPL for NASA, or that its scientists are making breakthroughs in human health, or that its faculty study Earth’s environment and advance clean energy.
“But you want the whole story,” she says. So the couple has introduced their friends to the unexpected breadth of discovery that made them believe supporting Caltech can change the world.
“My mother always said that doing this kind of thing—giving or giving back—is the rent we pay for the space we occupy,” Hummer-Tuttle says.