John S. Broome dies at 91; Ventura County rancher and philanthropist

John S. Broome dies at 91; Ventura County rancher and philanthropist
John S. Broome was a major supporter of Cal State Channel Islands, which named itsƒp library after him. (Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times)
John S. Broome, an Oxnard rancher and philanthropist whose family has owned land in Ventura County since before the turn of the 20th century and who was a major supporter of Cal State Channel Islands, has died. He was 91.

Broome, who had a stroke in January, died April 10 at home on his ranch, said his grandson Alden Broome.

The Illinois-born Broome was part of a family that bought a Mexican land grant in Ventura County -- Rancho Guadalasca -- in 1880.

Broome took over management of his family's farming and ranching business in 1946 after his father died and later expanded his interests to Kern and Monterey counties.

At the time of his death, he owned about 3,000 acres of the approximately 24,000-acre original land grant that ran from the beach at Point Mugu into the Oxnard plain.

Known as Jack, Broome has been described as modest and self-effacing -- a down-to-earth, private man who did not seek publicity.

He found himself in the spotlight in 1999, however, when he pledged $5 million to establish a library at the developing Cal State Channel Islands campus at the former Camarillo State Hospital.

Broome, whose ranch is adjacent to the site of the old hospital, for which he had been a chairman of the board of trustees, wanted his donation to be anonymous but agreed to go public so it might motivate other donors.

"Jack was very private and a very quiet individual in terms of his philanthropy particularly," said Handel Evans, the first president of the university.

After Broome agreed to allow his name to be used, Evans said, "in a matter of weeks, one of our other major donors gave another $5 million. So it did work, and we were very, very fortunate. And Jack was very pleased about it all."

In a 1999 interview with The Times, Broome said: "I can't think of anything more worthwhile to be involved in. I have nothing to gain by it, and I don't want anything out of it. The only satisfaction I'll get is to see the university blossom into a major educational institution."

Broome's charitable donation was described as one of the largest in Ventura County history. In recognition of his generosity, the university named the library after him.

The 137,000-square-foot library, which was designed by renowned British architect Norman Foster and cost about $62 million, opened in 2008.

Broome and his family also donated a major fountain on campus, and he supported the acquisition of library books.

In 1998, a year before making his donation to the university, Broome was also in the news when the New York Times reported that he had sold “Lost on the Grand Banks,” the last major seascape by Winslow Homer left in private hands, for more than $30 million to Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates.

Broome told the Ventura County Star at the time that his father bought the 1885 painting -- it depicts two fishermen peering over the side of their small boat in a heavy sea -- in New York around the turn of the century. Broome bought the painting from his grandmother in 1943.

"I love the painting," he said. "As a child, I used to admire it. I think it's the most powerful painting in the country."

Asked why he sold the work, which he had previously put on loan to major museums, Broome said, "it was just time to let go of certain things."

Born in Chicago on Dec. 1, 1917, Broome received a bachelor's degree from Louisiana State University.

He had an early love of aviation and first soloed at age 17 in 1935. He later became a pilot trainer and was a pilot for the Army Air Forces' Air Transport Command over the North Atlantic during World War II. He also had a postwar stint as an American Airlines pilot.

In 1985, to mark the 50th anniversary of his first solo flight, the 68-year-old Broome made a solo round-trip flight across the Atlantic -- "He was that sort of a guy," said Evans -- and he continued to pilot his twin turboprop plane until he was 83.

Flying wasn't his only interest: Among other things, he participated in the Trans-Pacific Yacht Race from Los Angeles to Honolulu three times.

Broome's many philanthropic endeavors included supporting and helping launch Casa Pacifica, a home for abused, neglected and emotionally disturbed children in Camarillo.

Broome, who founded the Conejo Savings and Loan Assn. in Thousand Oaks, was on numerous boards and commissions, including the Ventura County Harbor Commission, of which he served as chairman, and the boards of Pepperdine University and the House Ear Institute in Los Angeles.

He is survived by his wife of 62 years, Patricia; his son, John S. Broome Jr. of Camarillo; his daughters, Elizabeth Broome Grether of Somis and Ann Broome Priske of Houston; his sister, Elizabeth Broome Miller of Santa Barbara; and eight grandchildren.