In Memoriam: James Easton, 88, UCLA Alumnus, Global Business Leader and Dedicated Philanthropist
Jim Easton, left, with his wife, Phyllis. Easton brought innovative ideas to all his endeavors and “touched the lives of students, student-athletes, faculty, researchers and patients,” said Chancellor Gene Block.
James L. Easton, whose many decades of UCLA service, leadership and philanthropic support have left a lasting impact on the university and the world, died Dec. 4. He was 88.
An alumnus of UCLA and a longtime business leader in the sporting goods industry, Easton dedicated much of his energy and generosity to his alma mater, serving in numerous fundraising and advisory roles and making transformative gifts to endow centers and initiatives across a wide range of disciplines.
“Jim Easton was a dear friend to the entire UCLA community. From athletics to business and from medicine to his own field of engineering, his vision and generosity strengthened many areas of our campus,” said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. “Jim possessed remarkable forethought, big-picture thinking and strategic insight — and when he applied all of this to UCLA, he helped us expand the boundaries of what is possible and touched the lives of countless students, student-athletes, faculty, researchers and patients.”
Born in Los Angeles in 1935, Easton received a bachelor’s degree in engineering from UCLA in 1959, and after working for five years at Douglas Aircraft, he joined the family business: the manufacture and sale of sporting goods. In 1973, he became chairman and CEO of Jas. D. Easton Inc., a producer of high-quality archery equipment, including the arrows that have been used to win every Olympic title since 1972, when the sport was reintroduced to the Games.
Easton soon rose to the pinnacle of the sporting world. For the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, he was named the archery commissioner, the head of technology and the mayor of the athletes village, located at UCLA. From 1989 to 2005, he was the president of the World Archery Federation, and from 2002 to 2006, he served as vice president of the International Olympic Committee.
Throughout his success in business and sports, Easton maintained an unwavering commitment to giving back, building a strong and enduring relationship with UCLA. In addition to his extensive philanthropy, he dedicated a great deal of time and attention to service on behalf of the university. For two decades, he held various leadership positions within The UCLA Foundation.
During the 2014–19 Centennial Campaign for UCLA, Easton served on campaign committees for both the UCLA Anderson School of Management and the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, helping to drive their fundraising success. He sat on the UCLA Anderson board of advisors since 1988, where his strategic guidance proved invaluable. His years of leadership — including as a member of the UCLA Samueli dean’s advisory council — led to him being named that school’s alumnus of the year in 1989.
In 2014, Easton was awarded the UCLA Medal, the university’s most prestigious honor. At the time, Chancellor Block hailed him for his “engaged citizenry and tireless devotion” to UCLA.
A life of transformative giving
Given Easton’s long association with sports, UCLA Athletics was a natural beneficiary of his philanthropy. The Easton family made a number of generous donations, most notably providing significant funding for the construction in 1994 of Easton Stadium, the campus site for Bruins softball. Further gifts made possible upgrades and improvements to the stadium, home to the 12-time NCAA champions.
“Easton Stadium has been a true game-changer for Bruins softball,” said Kelly Inouye-Perez, the Shelly Carlin UCLA Head Softball Coach. “But Jim and his wife, Phyllis, have given us so much more than a home stadium in which to play — they have been true fans, championing our team for many years and cheering us on through victory and defeat. With Jim’s passing, we have truly lost a beloved member of the Bruin family.”
Easton’s UCLA legacy extended far beyond the playing field. Much of his focus as a philanthropist was in the area of brain science, and it is no small part thanks to his contributions that UCLA stands as a pioneer in the field. Particularly significant was a landmark commitment in 2015 that benefited UCLA Athletics, UCLA Anderson, UCLA Samueli and the Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and encouraged interdisciplinary exploration of neurological conditions. The gift supported what is collectively known as the Easton Labs for Brain Health and was a powerful testament to Easton’s drive to foster greater collaboration, especially in facilitating earlier diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease and traumatic brain events and in developing new therapeutic treatments.
Another gift from Easton led to the establishment of the Mary S. Easton Center for Alzheimer’s Research and Care at UCLA. The center, named for his mother, who had the disease, conducts world-leading work on dementia and other neurological conditions such as epilepsy, stroke and multiple sclerosis.
“If we were to think of UCLA as one giant brain,” said Dr. John Mazziotta, vice chancellor of for health sciences and CEO of UCLA Health, “then Jim Easton has been instrumental in helping us forge new pathways and build new connections, strengthening our ability to adapt, to grow and to learn. It is thanks to him that so many different areas of the university are in such close collaboration around brain science.
“When new and effective treatments for dementia are developed, or when future generations can recover more fully from traumatic brain injury, it will be due to the seeds Jim Easton has planted here at UCLA.”
Recognizing the need for today’s business leaders to have a clear grasp of technology and its implications, Easton founded the Easton Technology Management Center at UCLA Anderson in 2009. The center works to instill in students new ways of thinking about the rapidly evolving tech sector through practical, interdisciplinary learning from professors and practitioners at the top of their respective fields.
“Our school is so fortunate to have had a benefactor like Jim Easton, who was a close and valued partner for decades,” said Tony Bernardo, dean of UCLA Anderson and UCLA’s John E. Anderson Professor of Management. “Jim was a true pioneer who saw the centrality of technology to so many aspects of our lives and wanted to sharpen our students’ understanding by exposing them to challenging ideas about everything from artificial intelligence to health care analytics.
“Thanks to Jim and his wife, Phyllis, who is also a member of our board of advisors, graduates have had a grounding not just in the technologies themselves but in the ethics surrounding their use, the laws that govern them and the global trends that may lie ahead.”
As an engineer, Easton also wanted to ensure that UCLA remained at the forefront of the field in which he specialized as an undergraduate. To that end, he created the Easton Labs for Engineering Innovation at UCLA Samueli, a cutting-edge facility that specializes in the research and development of advanced materials for civil, aerospace and athletic applications.
Easton is survived by his wife, Phyllis; his two children, Greg and Lynn; two stepdaughters; three grandchildren; and five stepgrandchildren.
At the request of the family, charitable gifts in Easton’s memory can be made to The UCLA Foundation in support of the areas to which he was most deeply connected.