Fred Kavli, an entrepreneur, scientist and philanthropist who created thousands of jobs and gave millions for the study of theoretical physics, died at his home in Santa Barbara on Nov. 21. He was 86.
Born in Norway, Kavli made his way to the United States after World War II to pursue physics and expand on his lifelong entrepreneurial streak. In the late 1950s, he founded KavliCo Corp., a Moorpark-based maker of advanced sensors for cars and aircraft. He also invested in real estate for more than 50 years.
But Kavli, who the Business Times estimated was the 10th richest person in the Tri-Counties and worth about $600 million, was best known in his later years as a philanthropist. After selling KavliCo for $345 million in 1999, he started the Kavli Foundation and became one of the most prolific givers in the Tri-Counties and one of the top donors to the sciences in the nation.
He founded 14 Kavli research institutes around the world – including the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC Santa Barbara – and awarded $1 million total in Kavli Prizes for nanotechnology, neuroscience and astrophysics. The researchers he supported have won multiple Nobel Prizes, and his foundation controls approximately $100 million in assets.
“This is a painful loss for the foundation and for all of science,” Rockell Hankin, vice chairman of the Kavli Foundation, said in a statement. “We can only take comfort in his extraordinary legacy, which will continue advancing critically important research that benefits all of humanity, and supports scientific work around the globe.”
Kavli gave to a variety of other organizations throughout the Tri-Counties, funding efforts such as the Fred Kavli Theatre for Performing Arts at the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza.
About a year ago, Kavli was diagnosed with cholangiocarcinoma, a rare form of cancer. He died of complications from surgery. He is survived by two children and nine nephews and nieces. In a statement, the Kavli family asked for privacy and encouraged the public to remember Kavli’s spirit of philanthropy.
“We can all reflect upon his example of giving so much of himself to make this world a better place. May his legacy continue to benefit mankind,” the family said in a statement.