From modest beginnings, Elizabeth and Tom Tierney have worked hard to establish themselves and have come to appreciate the finer things in life. Beautiful artwork adorns their Coto de Caza home, while their stable houses cherished Peruvian horses. The couple finds comfort in their collections.
However, one of their most beloved collections has no monetary value. It’s a stack of dog-eared letters received over the years from UCI students thankful for scholarships the Tierneys provided.
“We’ve saved most of the letters, and they are extremely heartwarming,” Elizabeth says. Adds Tom, “I think the most leverage anybody can get for a dollar spent is to help students with their education. It is the best investment there will ever be.”
Although they both came from families with little money for charity, the Tierneys learned early on that even the smallest gift counts. “I was taught to save my pennies to give to other children,” Elizabeth recalls. “My mother has always been an incredibly giving woman, but her offerings usually had to do with making a casserole that I would deliver to a family in need. Mom’s kindness fostered a sense of responsibility in me and the realization that, yes, I can help make a difference.”
When the couple married nearly 25 years ago, their collective philanthropy blossomed along with their love. Their wedding gift to one another was a donation to the Orange County Performing Arts Center, merely a concept at the time. With an extensive history of community involvement, the Tierneys have invested their time, talent and support in UCI for nearly two decades. Their commitment goes to the very heart of the university – its students – and extends far beyond.
The couple has endowed scholarships in the arts, social sciences, humanities and a lifetime chair in peace studies – the first in the UC system. They also made the lead gift for the Thomas T. and Elizabeth C. Tierney University House. In addition to being the chancellor’s residence, Tierney University House has become a place where the UCI community and guests from around the world enjoy stimulating intellectual exchange in a warm, intimate setting.
The Tierneys’ presence is felt nearly everywhere on campus. The couple are trustees of The UCI Foundation, and Tom is a former chair. His record of service to UCI encompasses influential roles with many of the university’s major support organizations, including the Daniel G. Aldrich Jr. Society, the Beckman Laser Institute Support Group and the Chief Executive Roundtable. He also served as an advisory board member for the Susan SamueliCenter for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.
Elizabeth, a former educator, serves on the Claire Trevor Schoolof the Arts Dean’s Council and is a leader in the arts campaign, the Social Sciences Dean’s Ambassadors Council and the Women’s Opportunities Center Advisory Council.
Having volunteered as co-chairs of the campaign for a new university hospital at UCI Medical Center, the Tierneys are now dedicat-ing their energy to a landmark center for medicine that will be a patient-oriented, technologically advanced “smart hospital.” To punctuate their commitment to the new university hospital campaign, the Tierneys made a substantial lead gift in support of the project.
“We are passionate advocates for this campaign,” says Tom, the president of Vita-Tech International, which manufactures nutritional supplements. “This will be a world-class academic medical center that will make a profound difference in people’s lives. Serving as co-chair is more than exciting and, I hesitate to say this, I almost feel like I should pay someone to let me do this.”
Tom has been a patient at UCI Medical Center and says that, while he had his choice of hospitals, UCI was his first choice. “I wanted to be where the physicians who train other physicians reside,” he explains. “The deep level of care and compassion that was demonstrated to me – and to those around me – was beyond the call of duty. UCI Medical Center is the most undersung hero in all of Orange County.”
The Tierneys continue to open their home to meetings, holiday celebrations and events in support of the university. And while their seemingly endless goodwill on behalf of UCI has not gone unnoticed – in 1990 they were awarded the university’s highest honor, the UCI Medal, and in 1999 they received the Lauds & Laurels Extraordinarius award from the UCI Alumni Association – what matters most to the couple is to make a difference in other people’s lives. Elizabeth and Tom need look no further than the well-read stack of letters from appreciative students to know they have succeeded.