Family Legacy

Martin Dickinson links generations through civic pride

For some, retirement brings long-anticipated time to rest and reflect on a life well lived. For Martin Dickinson, retirement definitely opened up time, but not for rest. In fact, after more than 40 years in the banking industry, Dickinson has spent many more hours in the boardroom than on the back porch since turning in his corporate key. He doesn’t mind; he considers it his family’s legacy to advance the work of organizations throughout San Diego, including longtime support of USD’s Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science.

Born in room 703 at San Diego’s Mercy Hospital during the Great Depression, Dickinson learned early that a community is not just where you live; it is a part of who you are. His mom, a homemaker who was active in the community, and his dad, a banker and former Eagle Scout who lived with a heart condition resulting from rheumatic fever, quietly supported the organizations that were important to them, such as the Boy Scouts of America, The Salvation Army and Scripps Hospital. The emphasis was always on “quietly.”

“My dad would get a call from The Salvation Army at Thanksgiving and they would say, ‘We don’t have enough money to hold the Thanksgiving dinner this year,’” Dickinson recalls. “And he would say, ‘I’ll do it for you, but don’t mention my name.’”

After earning a BA in economics, Dickinson served four years in the Navy, then earned an MBA in finance and rose to leadership positions in many of San Diego’s top commercial banking institutions, including La Jolla Bank & Trust Company and Scripps Bank. He then co-founded Legacy Bank, which ultimately merged with Landmark National Bank.

True to his parents’ example, Dickinson became a civic leader as well, lending his expertise to 25 corporate and nonprofit boards over the years, from CBS to Scripps Health to the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in his dad’s hometown of Oklahoma City. His wife, Carol, is similarly engaged, serving on the boards of the San Diego Botanic Garden and Mingei International Museum, among others.

Today, as president of the Donald C. and Elizabeth M. Dickinson Foundation, which was named for his parents and funded largely by their estate after they passed away, Dickinson and his family support about 20 organizations primarily in San Diego County that are dedicated to education or the medical arts.

Dickinson’s children serve the foundation as well, with son, Kris, as executive director and daughter, Rebecca, as a member of the board. All of the foundation’s efforts pay homage to Dickinson’s parents, including the group’s significant contributions to USD’s School of Nursing.

Since the late 1990s, the Dickinson Foundation has awarded $1.4 million to support the nursing school’s efforts — and in particular, the Master’s Entry Program in Nursing. The Dickinson Foundation awarded a gift of $2 million to the school in 2013 for the Elizabeth Dickinson Smoyer Nursing Simulation Center in memory of Dickinson’s sister, who was active in the family foundation and passed away in 2012. The new clinical simulation and education center, which will be built as part of the Betty and Bob Beyster Institute for Nursing Research, Advanced Practice, and Simulation, will expand upon the school’s renowned clinical simulation program and serve as a national model for nursing education.

“Having been associated with the Scripps Health Board for many years, it was evident that one of the challenges hospitals face is finding enough qualified nurses and administrators,” Dickinson says. “The nursing school is turning out the master’s and PhD students who fill those roles. We are not a brick-and-mortar charitable organization, but this building is essential for (Dean) Sally (Brosz Hardin) to be able to expand her organization.”

“The Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science has been a pioneer in bringing nursing simulation to educate advanced practice nurses,” says Hardin. “Mr. Dickinson has been a wonderful spokesperson for us and has volunteered his personal time to help us. Very few people understand how significant the role of nursing is, especially graduate-prepared nurses, and Mr. Dickinson and his family get that. We are very grateful to him and to the entire Dickinson family for their support.”

Embracing more of the “rest” side of retirement recently, Martin and Carol Dickinson are carving out time for their hobby of attending art auctions and art shows to collect Western art, and for travel, often to visit grandchildren in college. And just as his parents did for him, Dickinson continues to demonstrate the importance of his family legacy for these younger generations the best way he knows how: by quiet example.

“I have always felt very strongly — as my mom and dad did — about giving back to the people and the community we live in,” Dickinson says. “I have a good life in San Diego, so it’s important to support the community and help it grow.”

Civic leader Martin Dickinson (pictured above with his wife, Carol) heads the Donald C. And Elizabeth M. Dickinson Foundation, which has made significant contributions to USD’s Hahn School of Nursing and Health Science.