Robert Hale Jr. still remembers the impossibly tiny baby girl he saw more than a decade ago, hooked to tubes and monitors at Boston Children’s Hospital, where Hale, a hospital donor, was taking his first tour.
The moment stayed with Hale, the chief executive of Quincy-based Granite Telecommunications, and his wife, Karen, sparking a desire to do more to help the sick.
Now they’re committing $100 million to two Boston health care institutions: $50 million for Children’s and $50 million for Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
The donation is the largest single gift ever for Brigham, and it ties for the largest gift for Children’s. Both hospitals will name buildings after the Hale family.
The Hales are well-known in philanthropic circles, but the combined gifts, which are being announced Monday, are also their largest.
“What the Hales are doing with this $100 million donation is really an acknowledgment that Boston is the epicenter of health care and research,” said Sandra L. Fenwick, the chief executive of Children’s Hospital. “What happens here in these institutions is not just impacting our city and our Commonwealth but being disseminated worldwide.”
At Children’s, the donation will go toward the costs of a $1 billion construction project that will include an 11-story building housing dozens of new hospital beds, new operating rooms, a heart center, and a new unit for sick newborns. The hospital has begun site work on the building, which is expected to be completed by early 2022 and will be named for the Hales. (The project stirred controversy before its approval in 2016 because of its potential impact on health care costs and because it required building over a beloved green space, the Prouty Garden.)
Brigham officials said they haven’t decided how to use the Hales’ unrestricted gift, but they plan to name their newest building after the Hales. The $475 million facility, which includes medical clinics and research labs, opened in 2016.
Academic medical centers like Children’s and Brigham, two Harvard-affiliated teaching hospitals in Boston’s Longwood Medical Area, are among the biggest and most complicated businesses in the state. They treat complex cases and also conduct biomedical research and train young doctors. They are structured as nonprofits, courting and relying on generous donors, in addition to what they collect in insurance payments and research grants.
In 2009, Massachusetts General Hospital used its largest gift ever — $100 million from tech magnate Phillip T. Ragon — to join forces with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University to accelerate research toward an AIDS vaccine.
The Hales have connections to both Children’s and Brigham. Robert Hale said he was grateful for the care his father received at Brigham after a heart attack some 20 years ago. The elder Robert Hale died in 2008 after being treated for pancreatic cancer at Brigham and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
The younger Hale, 51, also has been moved by what he has seen at Children’s Hospital. On tours of the hospital, he became teary-eyed in the newborn intensive care unit.
That baby girl he saw more than a decade ago — who was small enough to fit in an adult hand — eventually grew healthy enough to go home, he said.
“When you go to Children’s and see the kids they help, it’s very emotional. It makes you want to help,” he said.
Hale said he and his wife discussed the idea over a couple of months, then reached out to the hospital chiefs.
“They asked if I could meet with them in December, and they told me that they would like to make this gift,” said Dr. Elizabeth G. Nabel, Brigham’s chief executive. “As you could imagine, I was really quite blown away by their generosity and their grace.”
The Hales have been involved with both hospitals for several years, including helping to organize fund-raisers and cooking spaghetti dinners for some patient families. They have donated to several institutions in the past, including about $25 million to Connecticut College and $30 million to Deerfield Academy (Robert Hale’s alma maters), and $30 million (with Hale’s mother) to Dana-Farber.
Hale, a father of three who lives in Hingham, said he feels a responsibility to share his wealth. “We are very, very fortunate, and we know it,” he said.
His Dana-Farber fund-raisers have drawn high-profile guests like Governor Charlie Baker, who joins Hale annually to shave his head in support of cancer research.
Hale’s company, which he founded with his father in 2002, has prospered in a rare niche: packaging phone and other communication services for multistate giants such as Walmart and Costco. Granite’s success came after a failure: The Hales previously ran another telecommunications company, Network Plus, that went bankrupt.
Granite employs about 2,000 people and collects annual revenue of more than $1.3 billion.
Douglas A. Berthiaume, vice chairman of the Children’s Hospital board, said Hale is a believer that “we all should be giving till it hurts.”
Berthiaume, the former chief executive of Milford-based Waters Corp., is another major donor for Children’s. His family provided the hospital’s previous $50 million gift, the largest of several donations they made over many years, he said.
John Fish, the chief executive of Suffolk Construction and chairman of Brigham’s board, said Hale is known not just for writing checks but for committing time to causes that are important to him.
“Sometimes it’s more difficult to provide the time,” said Fish, who calls Hale a close friend. “Rob does both. Rob Hale is one of the . . . most respected individuals in the New England business community.”
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