“Lily has the vision to discern rare opportunities, and the generous spirit to realize them for others.”
— Michael J. Fox
The Michael J. Fox Foundation (MJFF) mourns the loss of Lily Safra. A world-class philanthropist, Mrs. Safra leaves a legacy of serving others through her unmatched generosity and immense compassion for humanity. As chairwoman of the Edmond J. Safra Foundation for more than 20 years, Mrs. Safra provided transformative support to hundreds of organizations around the world in the name of her late husband, Edmond J. Safra. Her philanthropy extended to education, science and medicine, religion, culture and humanitarian relief.
Edmond J. Safra lived with Parkinson’s disease (PD), and Mrs. Safra was passionately invested in finding a cure. Guided by a deep understanding of the Parkinson’s family experience, she became one of The Michael J. Fox Foundation’s earliest and most important champions. Within months of MJFF’s launch, she joined our Board of Directors, setting in motion a cascade of grant-making over the next two decades that undoubtedly changed the course of Parkinson’s disease research and care.
“Lily’s friendship was instrumental in establishing our path and expanding our work further than we could have dreamed,” said Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan. “She sharpened our vision and lent us her strength so that we might make a greater difference in the lives of all people and families touched by Parkinson’s disease. We will be grateful forever.”
A seasoned and strategic philanthropist, Mrs. Safra was keenly aware of the opportunity to transform the Parkinson’s experience through long-term commitments by the Edmond J. Safra Foundation. Brought into key conversations at critical junctures throughout MJFF’s short history, she was a stalwart advocate for our biggest, boldest — and most novel — scientific initiatives. Her breathtaking personal generosity was paired with her work through the Edmond J. Safra Foundation, which has been a seminal partner to MJFF throughout our existence. It is no exaggeration to say that her leadership has furnished sustained support for every one of MJFF’s top scientific and care priorities — including advancing our understanding of the role of genetics in PD, accelerating the validation of a biomarker, developing better treatments to address more of patients’ unmet medical needs, and seeding the next generation of PD clinician-researchers.
In 2003, Mrs. Safra’s visionary support allowed MJFF to establish the Edmond J. Safra Global Genetics Consortia resulting in the first genome-wide association study of Parkinson’s, a vital step in identifying genetic changes linked to the disease. Over subsequent years this program would come to revolutionize scientific understanding of the genetics of PD, opening avenues of research still avidly pursued to this day.
In 2007, the Edmond J. Safra Foundation backed a pivotal movement in MJFF’s aggressive research agenda: the LEAPS (Linked Efforts to Accelerate Parkinson’s Solutions) program, an innovative funding model that provided multi-year, multi-million-dollar grants to “all-star” research teams to solve urgent questions in PD diagnosis or treatment. This support enabled research on the alpha-synuclein protein, marking the start of an ongoing partnership that would propel this then-emerging field of research on its path to becoming the most important therapeutic target in Parkinson’s.
A true paragon of the power of philanthropy to catalyze scientific breakthroughs, Mrs. Safra provided the first individual leadership gift to MJFF’s landmark clinical study, the Parkinson’s Progression Markers Initiative, in 2010. Since then, the study has changed how research is done and what scientists know about the brain. It is a cornerstone of our understanding of disease and has heavily influenced clinical trial design and spurred a significant increase in industry investment in PD. The study’s extraordinary growth is possible because of the uninterrupted flow of support from the Edmond J. Safra Foundation and Mrs. Safra.
While directing consistent funding toward the Foundation’s mission-critical programs, Mrs. Safra also found ways to infuse her exceptional style into her dynamic approach to philanthropy. In 2012, Mrs. Safra facilitated Jewels For Hope, auctioning her personal collection of jewels for the benefit of 32 charitable organizations, including a $1-million donation to MJFF. That same year, MJFF dedicated its largest meeting space, the locus of countless scientific decisions and creative ingenuity, in memory of Edmond J. Safra. Mrs. Safra and Michael J. Fox dedicated the room in a memorable ceremony attended by Board, leadership, staff and members of the Parkinson’s community.
In an effort to address the worldwide shortage of movement disorder specialists (neurologists with specific training in Parkinson’s disease), which causes patients long wait times and distant travel to access needed specialty care, the Edmond J. Safra Foundation partnered with MJFF in 2014 to establish The Edmond J. Safra Fellowship in Movement Disorders. The program provides funding for clinical centers to train more clinician-researcher neurologists worldwide, effectively growing the global base of movement disorder specialists treating people with Parkinson’s and contributing to research toward new and improved treatments. The Edmond J. Safra Fellowship in Movement Disorders is on track to graduate 72 new PD specialists by 2028.
In 2020, MJFF honored Mrs. Safra’s remarkable 20 years of leadership giving and strategic collaboration with the inaugural Edmond J. Safra Humanitarian Award. The award recognized her decades-long commitment to speeding a Parkinson’s cure and bettering quality of life for people and families living with the disease.
“There are no words to adequately convey our grief at this loss. Mrs. Safra was a true giant of philanthropy and someone we have been privileged to know and work with from the beginning,” said MJFF CEO Debi Brooks. “Her trust in our shared vision gave us the confidence to pursue even the most far-reaching objectives, and her outspoken support opened the door to opportunities we never imagined. Her compassionate spirit will remain a constant source of inspiration for us all.”
Lily Safra and Michael J. Fox at the 2008 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's benefit for The Michael J. Fox Foundation.
In 2012, MJFF dedicated its largest meeting space, the locus of countless scientific decisions and creative ingenuity, in memory of Edmond J. Safra. Mrs. Safra and Michael J. Fox dedicated the room in a memorable ceremony attended by Board, leadership, staff and members of the Parkinson’s community.
Tracy Pollan, Lily Safra and Michael J. Fox at the 2015 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Cure Parkinson's benefit for The Michael J. Fox Foundation.
Mrs. Safra alongside MJFF leadership and recent Edmond J. Safra Fellowship in Movement Disorders graduates and their mentors at the 2018 Edmond J. Safra Fellowship Symposium.
Mrs. Safra at the 2018 Edmond J. Safra Fellowship Symposium.