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Sharp’s future tower: Behind the McGrath family name

By The Health News Team | November 29, 2023
Laurie of the Laurie C. McGrath Foundation

Laurie McGrath's generous donation was the second-largest gift Sharp has ever received.

It was a Sharp HealthCare event back in 2015 that first piqued Laurie McGrath’s interest in how Sharp was making a difference in the San Diego community. Inspired by that Mary Birch Neonatal Research Institute luncheon, she donated $100 in support of Sharp’s tiniest patients.

It wasn’t until May 2022, when she turned on the news and saw the groundbreaking of the new Sharp Metropolitan Medical Campus, that the wheels were set in motion for what would become the second-largest gift Sharp has ever received: a $10 million pledge for the ENVISION Sharp Metro Modernization project.

This generous donation made by the Laurie C. McGrath Foundation matches the same amount donated 15 years ago for the Stephen Birch Tower.

“We are indeed grateful to Laurie McGrath and the trust she has placed in Sharp as the beneficiary of her generosity,” says Bill Littlejohn, senior vice president and CEO of the Foundations of Sharp HealthCare. “Laurie says she was inspired by an organization filled with passionate, determined and caring people dedicated to creating and advancing the personal experience for her family and the people of San Diego. We could not be more appreciative."

With this donation, Littlejohn added, the ENVISION campaign has surpassed the midpoint of its goal, raising more than $134 million of its milestone $250 million goal investment in the future of health care in San Diego.

To recognize Laurie’s generosity, the new acute care facility on the Sharp Metropolitan Medical Campus will be named the McGrath Tower. The seven-story future tower will feature 152 beds, a pulmonary lab and conference labs for clinical education. It is scheduled to open in 2030.

McGrath Tower at Sharp Metropolitan Campus

An illustration of the future McGrath Tower on the Sharp Metropolitan Medical Campus.

Other key projects on the Metro campus include expanding the Cushman Emergency and Trauma Center, creating the John M. Sachs Family Center for Generational Health, and the creation of a heart and lung institute.

“It’s not just the name on the building,” Laurie says. “It’s all the care that goes on inside, and the people that are part of this organization, from the patients to the doctors to the clinicians to the nurses.”

The family name

For Laurie, the gift is a reminder of the person who taught her all about philanthropy. Laurie’s parents, Bill and Carlee McGrath, married within six months of meeting each other in the 1940s and had four children.

Together, they ran a general engineering business. They took it from a small construction company to one that would be synonymous with San Diego, known for building freeways and highways and grading subdivisions all over the county and throughout Southern California.

"Laurie has always been very proud of her family’s history and her real estate development team’s accomplishments in developing much of our surrounding San Diego communities, and is committed to seeing the McGrath family legacy continue,” says Shawna Fallon, senior director of development of the Foundations of Sharp HealthCare.

Laurie always admired her mother, Carlee, from how active she was to her work ethic. Carlee would often bring papers home with her and work from the dinner table. No matter how busy Carlee was with the family business, she always made time for Laurie and her siblings.

“She was caring, loving, dynamic,” Laurie says. “She was the matriarch of our family.”

The family had Boston terriers throughout their lives and because of Carlee’s love of animals, they established the McGrath Family Foundation in 1986 primarily to support animal welfare organizations. With Carlee serving as chairwoman and Laurie as president, they connected with foundations across San Diego, attending events together and forming a perfect mother-daughter duo.

“She was always right there with me,” Laurie says. “I think you can learn how to be philanthropic, but my mom truly embodied it.”

A tragic passing

Laurie’s world turned upside down when Carlee suffered a stroke in 2016 at the age of 91.

Carlee was treated at Sharp Allison deRose Rehabilitation Center, where she would eventually relearn how to walk and talk. She didn’t need to relearn her feistiness nor her sense of humor, however — Laurie says her mother never lost those.

Laurie was at her mother’s bedside on a regular basis and attended her physical therapy sessions whenever she could.

“It was while Carlee was a patient at Sharp that Laurie saw firsthand the exemplary care provided to her mother and family, and from where Laurie’s interest in philanthropic support grew,” Shawna says.

Carlee lived until she was 98 years old. She was survived by her four children, six grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

“She was playful and sweet, just the best mom,” Laurie says.

Carlee’s sense of philanthropy has continued with Laurie, from donating to organizations like PETA and the Humane Society of the United States, as well as building the McGrath Mountain Center in Park City, Utah, for adaptive skiers and outdoor adventurers who have disabilities.

Her impact at Sharp will be next.

The future McGrath Tower

Having worked in development for over 30 years, one of Laurie’s favorite things to do is to put on the hard hat and walk around. Laurie isn’t someone who will donate money and then ignore the project.

“I want to be in the middle of it all,” Laurie says. “I want to do site visits, sit in a design meeting. You get to see it all take shape and be part of that. The most exciting thing for me is being involved in causes that make a real difference in the world.”

Since signing the $10 million pledge, Laurie has continued to give, including a $25,000 donation to Sharp HospiceCare. She can't wait for the future Metro campus to open, and when it does, she knows Carlee's legacy will also be felt.

"I learned so much from her," Laurie says.

Learn more about the ENVISION campaign; get the latest health and wellness news, trends and patient stories from Sharp Health News; and subscribe to our weekly newsletter by clicking the "Sign up" link below.

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