Michael Bloomberg's first donation to Johns Hopkins was $5, which he gave the year after he graduated in 1964 from the university with an engineering degree.
The New York mayor now ranks as Hopkins' largest contributor, and possibly the largest donor to any American university, and his ties and interests in Baltimore have spread throughout the city. On Thursday, the philanthropist and politician attended the dedication for a new Johns Hopkins hospital he helped build.
Bloomberg gave $120 million to help build the $1.1 billion state-of-the-art hospital, bringing his lifetime donations to Hopkins institutions to $800 million for buildings, professorships, research and art.
In the years since Bloomberg graduated, he made a fortune, became mayor of New York City and established himself as a champion of public health. In an interview Thursday, he said jokingly that he never would have been accepted to Hopkins medical school and it wasn't until he joined Hopkins' board in 1996 that he discovered the importance of preventing disease.
"I found that it was easier to prevent what makes people sick than to try and cure them and keep them from dying," he said. "I saw what the school of public health did, and the medical school and the school of nursing, and I took pride in it."
The Hopkins school of public health now bears his name, and the children's center in the new hospital will be named for Bloomberg's mother, whom he credits with giving him his charitable ethic. Charlotte R. Bloomberg died last year at 102.
Bloomberg joined some of the hundreds of other donors who contributed about a third of the hospital's cost, as well as state leaders and Hopkins officials, in a ceremony marking completion of the building. More than a decade in the making, the project — the largest hospital construction project in the country —is expected to bring the 136-year-old institution into the modern era.
The new building comprises two towers serving children and adults.
The adult tower was named for Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, first president of the United Arab Emirates, also a proponent of extending health care to his citizens. The UAE and Hopkins have partnered for decades on health initiatives in the Arab world and beyond. His grandson, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan bin Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, spoke at the ceremony of his family's gratitude to Hopkins for providing care to his people.
Bloomberg, who is celebrating Passover, said he shared some matzo with the sheikh and discussed their desire to continue extending top health care around the world.
Forbes estimates the mayor is worth about $22 billion, and he has given widely to other public health and medical causes, such as stem cell and malaria research, in addition to advocating for public health policy in New York.
As mayor, he pushed for a smoking ban in indoor places and parks, for chain restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus, for a ban on restaurants' use of trans fats and for limits on salt. Other states have joined some of the initiatives, including Maryland.
And earlier this year, he pledged funds to Planned Parenthood after the Susan G. Komen Foundation briefly cut funding to the reproductive and women's health organization.
The day before the hospital dedication, he launched a campaign to repeal or reform gun laws known as "Stand Your Ground." The law has been cited in the fatal shooting of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin. He said the laws, in place in 25 states, undermine public safety.
On Thursday, Bloomberg also said he's pledged $5 million over five years to the Open Society Institute's Accelerated Pathways program, which offers activities and training to troubled high school students. Four city schools will be among the beneficiaries.
"Baltimore is no different from a lot of cities," he said. "It needs to deal with crime and focus on education."
For his own education, his official biography says he paid his Hopkins tuition by taking out loans and working as a parking lot attendant. After receiving an MBA from the Harvard Business School, he worked for a Wall Street firm. After being laid off in the early 1980s, he founded what would become the global media company Bloomberg LP.
The ribbon cutting was held in front of the facility that is wrapped in multicolored and speckled glass designed by a Brooklyn artist, who was one of 70 commissioned to contribute art. It drew about 1,000 people to the entrance to the new hospital that fronts Orleans Street.
"We are fortunate that generous visionaries from across many communities shared and helped us achieve our vision for a new environment of care for the 21st century," said Ronald R. Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System and executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Hopkins, the city's largest private employer, funded the remainder of the construction with bond sales and a $100 million contribution from the state of Maryland.
Gov. Martin O'Malley called Hopkins "our place of healing" during a speech to the crowd.
"For more than a century, patients have come to Johns Hopkins for the best possible, evidence-based, patient-centered care," he said. "These new facilities will match that excellent care with greater comfort and privacy for patients and their families in a state-of-the-art environment."
Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels said the new 1.6 million-square-foot, 560-room facility will enable Hopkins to offer patients the finest care, "whether they come to us from East Baltimore or East Asia."
Patients will begin moving into the new buildings on April 29, and it will open May 1.