By all accounts, James Raisbeck was larger than life.

An aviation industry icon whose company, Raisbeck Engineering, pioneered many innovations that are still in commercial use today, he was always on the move — and always in search of adventure.

In 1986, he met his match in his soon-to-be wife, Sherry, a special education teacher with a passion for the arts.

“I had never met anyone like James,” says Sherry. “I felt that he had so much yet to show and become.”

One of the traits she nurtured in her husband was generosity. Over the course of their 35-year marriage, the Raisbecks left a deep imprint on the Seattle area through their philanthropy. They invested heavily in the arts and medicine, giving more than $10 million in total to UW Medicine over the past two decades.

The Raisbecks’ interest in supporting medical research stems from personal experience. In his mid-60s, James was diagnosed with congestive heart failure, leading him to seek treatment from Daniel Fishbein, MD, a cardiologist and researcher at UW Medicine. That diagnosis was the beginning of a long, gradual season of decline. When James’ pancreatic function also began to wane, he sought treatment from Irl Hirsch, MD, a UW Medicine physician who specializes in diabetes and endocrinology.

“Both physicians demonstrated tremendous dedication,” says Sherry. “We both felt that they deserved our support to get their research out there and continue to improve things for their patients.”

In gratitude for Fishbein and his colleagues in the Division of Cardiology, Sherry and James established the Clinical Research Program to provide funding for junior faculty members engaged in heart failure and transplant research. In addition, they created other funds to advance leading-edge, technology-driven diabetes research and care. They also served on the UW Medicine Diabetes Institute’s Campaign Council during the Accelerate Campaign, which raised over $2 billion in support of research, education and patient care.

Sherry’s health issues informed their giving as well. She has long suffered from osteoarthritis, which has wreaked havoc on her spine and required countless surgeries. Her spine function has improved under the care of UW neurosurgeon Christoph Hofstetter, MD, who has also become a trusted friend.

“I have always felt like I am being watched over carefully by Dr. Hofstetter,” she says.

In appreciation for his work, Sherry and James visited the Hofstetter lab after one of her surgeries to learn more about the research that took place there. Their initial investment in the lab’s work helped launch SPINEHealthie, a mobile application with more than 200 patient users. To help attract and retain talented spine surgeons, Sherry also committed $2 million to endow a chair in the Department of Neurological Surgery.

Giving to partners like UW Medicine, where you can meet the people who are receiving your support, is unbelievably rewarding. With every dollar you give, you know that you have done something in this world beyond yourself.

While personal relationships with UW Medicine physicians have inspired much of their philanthropy, the Raisbecks have also invested in needs they encountered at UW Medicine events. After a lecture on regenerative medicine sparked their interest, they supported the Institute for Stem Cell and Regenerative Medicine by creating the Raisbeck Endowed Chair in Regenerative Biology. By helping to recruit more top-tier talent to the institute, they reasoned, they could play a key role in maintaining a pipeline of discovery with considerable implications for economic and public health.

When deciding where to invest their time and treasure, the Raisbecks prioritized relationships over requirements.

“We never approached giving with a checklist that a researcher had to meet in order for us to contribute to their success,” says Sherry. “We knew that the impact of their research was astronomical, but it was the personal touch that sold us. When you learn about a researcher as a person and really understand what drives them forward, that is compelling. That forms the base for a genuine friendship.”

In the summer of 2021, James passed away at the age of 84 from complications related to diabetes. In his absence, Sherry has carried on their legacy of generosity by supporting UW Medicine physicians however she can.

In recognition of the Raisbecks’ efforts over the past 20 years, Sherry will soon receive one of UW Medicine’s most prestigious honors: the Brotman Leadership Award, which honors people whose visionary philanthropic leadership expands UW Medicine’s ability to carry out its public mission.

Sherry is grateful to receive the award, but more than anything, she hopes that this recognition will inspire others to give generously and enthusiastically.

“Giving to partners like UW Medicine, where you can meet the people who are receiving your support, is unbelievably rewarding,” she says. “With every dollar you give, you know that you have done something in this world beyond yourself.”

Written by Ashley Rabinovitch