Dan David, inventor, philanthropist dies at 82

Soft-spoken, generous Romanian-born philanthropist will be laid to rest in the Kfar Shmaryahu cemetery.

September 8, 2011 05:29
3 minute read.
Dan David

Dan David 311. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The next annual awards ceremony for the prestigious Dan David Prize of $1 million for achievements having outstanding scientific, technological, cultural or social impact on the world is set for June 10, 2012, at Tel Aviv University. But for the first time since the inauguration of the prize in 2002, its founder will not be present.

Dan David, the soft-spoken, generous Romanian-born philanthropist and inventor who lived in Rome and divided his time between England, Italy, Spain and Israel, died in London on Tuesday after suffering a brain hemorrhage. He was 82.

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He will be laid to rest in the Kfar Shmaryahu cemetery on Friday.

A Holocaust survivor, who after the war became a Zionist youth activist, David worked as a journalist and photographer both in Romania and Israel, to which he immigrated in 1961, feeling he could no longer live under Communist rule.

He came to Israel with a dream – not one that included joining his sun-browned coreligionists in tilling the fields on kibbutz, but on using his studies in industrial photography and his work experience as a photographer to create the technology for instant photography.

The vision was there, but the money required for research and experimentation was not. David was so enthused by the concept that he shared that vision with others, and an overseas businessman who thought the idea had merit, offered him a $200,000 loan with no time limit for repayment.

This was enormous capital half a century ago, and with it, David was able to transform his dream into a reality and create a company.

He not only repaid his benefactor, but also gave him stock in his new enterprise.

Today, people all over the world who urgently need a photograph for an ID card or a passport, use the instant photo slot machines invented by David.

In the interim he developed many other patents, left Israel, settled in Italy, established an investment company in addition to his photo-technology company, and became a consultant and director on the boards of many Israeli, European, American and Asian companies.

Fortunately, he was fluent in more than half a dozen languages, which was extremely beneficial in both his business and philanthropic relations.

Highly educated, with a vast range of interests that included archeology, literature, history, chess, cinema, medicine, traveling and cycling amongst others, David had a healthy respect for making knowledge more readily available so more people could learn about the past, could benefit from the present and could contribute to the future.

One of the conditions of his prize was that all three recipients should give 10 percent of it away in scholarships so young people could further their own studies and young entrepreneurs would find it easier to chase their dreams.

Though extremely affluent, he never saw money as an end unto itself, but as something to be shared for a specific purpose.

He never forgot that his own start was generated by a $200,000 loan and that he might never have reached the peaks that he scaled without that loan.

His interest in Tel Aviv University was initially sparked by his membership in the Italian Friends of TAU, and from there he progressed to membership of the Board of Governors of TAU and subsequently the establishment of the Dan David Prize, which has created excitement and ambition in academic circles around the globe, and which has brought both TAU and Israel into an international spotlight free of politics or security issues.

In creating the prize he said, he was able to reward eminent figures who have increased knowledge of the past, improved the present and helped to forge a better future. In getting them to share the prize with students and young entrepreneurs, he was ensuring continuity of those three principles.

TAU was not the only recipient of David’s generosity. He used to say working for good causes was an endless source of satisfaction.

To some extent, it was also good for the ego. Academic institutions tend to reward their larger donors with honorary doctorates, and other institutions find other means of expressing appreciation. David was the recipient of many such awards, but didn’t allow them to intrude on his personality.

He was always the courtly European gentleman with a benign smile on his face.

He is survived by his wife Gabriela and his son Ariel, who worked as a journalist in Italy and who now lives in Israel.

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