A $20 million gift for a university medical school evaporated with a phone call after the donor thought the university president insulted him.
Herbert Wertheim took back the gift offer after the call last week and resigned from Florida International University’s board of trustees.
“The conversation just wasn’t what it should have been. There were things said that shouldn’t have been said, and Humpty Dumpty is broken,” Wertheim said.
The loss of the businessman’s money also meant the loss of a matching $20 million grant from the state, and it means Wertheim’s name will no longer go on the medical school.
Wertheim, who made his fortune manufacturing ophthalmic equipment, had wanted to defer some payments on the gift until 2009 for tax purposes, despite agreeing to deliver a lump sum within 30 days of naming the school for him on Sept. 29.
In the phone call, he said, university President Modesto “Mitch” Maidique told him he had gotten the naming rights “on the cheap” and that the university “could now get $100 million for it.”
Maidique responded in a letter Thursday, apologizing and leaving the door open for further negotiations, but saying that receiving the $20 million in a lump sum had been “pivotal” in the naming-rights agreement because it ensured the state would match the gift.
“You have been a friend of the University’s and of mine for almost 20 years. If I was unclear during our conversation and I unintentionally hurt you, I apologize,” he wrote.
The university’s press office didn’t return calls Friday. But school board chairman David Parker said he was confident other donors would step forward. Parker said the school would likely return at least $700,000 Wertheim already had sent.
Wertheim, chairman and CEO of Brain Power Inc., joined the school’s foundation board of directors in 1988 and led its first capital campaign, raising $204 million in four years.