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Duane Roth: The Connector Who Wired Up a Regional Innovation Economy

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new blood.

As an advocate for innovation, Roth was pragmatic and ecumenical. He worked with many people who disagreed with him, or held divergent views. Some of his closest friends, like Don Rosenberg, an executive vice president and general counsel at Qualcomm, and Dr. David Brenner, vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, voiced almost identical sentiments about their respective friendships with Roth.

“Duane and I were as different as two people can be,” Rosenberg said during his eulogy at the Church of the Immaculata. “Duane was born in Iowa, baptized in the Mennonite church, a Republican. And me, raised in Brooklyn, Jewish, a Democrat. We quickly learned we had more in common. We were kindred spirits. We liked the same things: Bikes, biking, cars, and people.”

Brenner, who described himself as a liberal democrat and Roth as “a very staunch Republican,” said they still shared great times together, often attending basketball games with Bill Walton and Roth’s brother Ted. “More than anybody else, he tried to make San Diego a hub for biomedical research and commercialization,” Brenner said in a phone interview.

Rosenberg said Roth also had encouraged him to participate in the “Million Dollar Challenge,” an annual 620-mile bike ride down the California coastline, from San Francisco to San Diego, to raise funding for the San Diego-based Challenged Athlete Foundation. They became bicycling buddies, and Rosenberg said, “We shared one of those friendships that was so comfortable that we didn’t feel the need for conversation.”

And they shared something else as well.

On July 21, 2011, Rosenberg said he was on a training ride with Roth and the Challenged Athlete Foundation when he crashed into a rock wall. He was severely injured, but Roth stayed by his side until the paramedics arrived and a life flight helicopter whisked him away. Exactly two years later to the day, Roth was on another training ride with the Challenged Athlete Foundation when he crashed into a rocky embankment, shattering his bicycle helmet. A life flight helicopter flew Roth to the UCSD Medical Center in Hillcrest, where he remained in intensive care until he died. He never regained consciousness.

Duane J. Roth 1949-2013 (photo courtesy of Roth family)

Duane J. Roth 1949-2013 (photo courtesy of Roth family)

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  • Karina Lion

    Bruce, This is a wonderful reportage about Duane, who was a friend and mentor. Thanks for your remembrance of his great contributions to our tech and bio community. Your compassionate coverage of his legacy and untimely passing have helped us get through this tragic loss. Regards, Karina Lion

  • Mark Leibowitz

    Thanks for this compelling description of the memorial and tribute to Duane’s contributions. I found the memorial to be very inspiring and hope that it will serve to motivate the San Diego innovation community to continue Duane’s work with renewed passion.
    Take care,

  • Chris Stiehl

    I loved Duane as a friend, colleague and advisor in the work my wife and I did for CIRM. As Bruce reports here, Duane was always making connections and looking for ways for everyone to win. He gave you his full attention when you asked for his help. His response always considered all of those who may be affected by your actions, both now and in the future. One of our proudest accomplishments was having his support in our work to spread the good news about CIRM. We also saw he and Rene at charity events all over San Diego, often seeing him at two Galas on the same evening! He was a humble giant among men. He will be missed.