John Corbally, 79, the first president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, known for its “genius grants,” and former president of the University of Illinois and Syracuse University, died Friday of brain cancer at his home in Mill Creek, Wash.
Corbally was credited with shaping the philanthropy of the richly endowed foundation established by billionaire John D. MacArthur, sole owner of Bankers Life and Casualty Co. of Chicago, who died in 1978. Corbally served on the foundation board from 1979 to 2002, was president from 1980 until 1989 and chairman from 1995 to 2002.
MacArthur left no instructions on how to spend the money. Under Corbally’s guidance, the foundation has directed more than $3 billion to mental health, education, conservation, human rights and public broadcasting. Best known are its $500,000 “genius grants” awarded to “exceptionally talented individuals who have given evidence of originality and dedication to creative pursuits.”
Born in South Bend, Wash., and educated at the University of Washington and UC Berkeley, Corbally taught and then entered education administration. He headed Syracuse University from 1969 to 1971 and the University of Illinois from 1971 to 1979.