Daniel C. Searle didn’t know how he got onto the mailing list of the American Enterprise Institute. “I haven’t the vaguest idea,” he said a little more than a year ago.
However it happened, Searle started reading its books and newsletters and grew closer to the conservative think tank. By the time he died on October 30, at the age of 81, Searle had become one of the largest donors to AEI in its history — and certainly the biggest in the organization’s last 20 years, during its period of preeminence.
Searle died on a bird-shooting trip in Scotland. “He was an old-fashioned tough guy,” says Christopher DeMuth, the president of AEI. “He went out in just the style he had lived. Whatever he did, he did all the way.”
His achievement as a donor to AEI would be enough to secure a meaningful legacy in philanthropy and public policy–but Searle’s bequest is far from complete. He leaves behind not only a record of generosity to AEI and like-minded groups, but also a foundation currently worth more than $100 million. Before long, the benefactor of Searle Freedom Trust will be spoken of in the same breath as the three great brand names of right-leaning philanthropy: Olin, Bradley, and Scaife.
“His love of a free society will live on for many years to come,” says Gideon Searle, one of his sons and the new chairman of Searle Freedom Trust.
Dan Searle was born in Evanston, Ill., on May 6, 1926. He went to Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, and then Yale University and Harvard Business School, finally graduating in 1952. He spent his entire business career at G.D. Searle and Company, a pharmaceutical firm started by his family. He rose to become its president in 1966, CEO in 1970, and finally chairman of the board in 1977–a position he kept until 1985, when the company was sold. Its best-known products included Dramamine, Metamucil, NutraSweet, and Enovid, the first oral contraceptive.
As chairman, Searle’s most important decision probably involved the hiring of a new CEO who had just left the Ford administration. Donald Rumsfeld strengthened the company and developed a reputation for leadership that made him an attractive choice for a future president who needed a defense secretary.
Searle Freedom Trust was once known as the D&D Foundation, though it thankfully had nothing to do with the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game. It assumed its modern shape about a decade ago. “For a while, I had done the standard philanthropy stuff–the alma mater, the community fund, the art institute. All of those are nice things, but I wanted to do something different,” said Searle. “If you look at the trend lines, you’ll find both economic freedom and individual freedom are becoming more constrained by laws and regulations. We have a political system that says ‘there ought to be a law’ whenever something appears to need a fix. I began to wonder: What if we could change the slope of the curve that leads to more loss of freedom?”