UCLA alumnus Ronald A. Katz, an inventor and entrepreneur who for more than 50 years has helped to advance UCLA’s mission through his wide-ranging philanthropic giving and volunteer service, was honored Sept. 27 with the Fiat Lux Award, which recognizes distinguished or extraordinary service to the university.
Katz, the driving force behind the founding of Operation Mend at UCLA, received the award from UCLA Chancellor Gene Block during a private dinner at the chancellor’s residence.
“We thank Ron Katz, his late wife, Maddie, and their family for their visionary leadership, advocacy and generosity, not only to military medicine, including Operation Mend, but across the UCLA campus,” Block said.
Ron and Madelyn “Maddie” Katz met at Los Angeles High School and then attended UCLA in the 1950s. In 2006, the couple saw a dramatic news report about the serious injuries sustained by U.S. military service members in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Maddie suggested she and Ron do something to help.
The couple soon made a lead gift to UCLA, planting the seeds for Operation Mend. Ron Katz brought the Department of Veterans Affairs, Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas and other stakeholders together with Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center to launch the program, which provides free medical, surgical and psychological treatment to post-9/11 veterans and service members injured in the line of duty. To date, Operation Mend has been funded by more than 5,000 donors.
“Quite simply, the generosity of Ron Katz through the creation of Operation Mend has made an indelible mark on UCLA Health and forever changed it for the better,” said Dr. John Mazziotta, vice chancellor of UCLA Health Sciences and CEO of UCLA Health.
Mazziotta noted that that generosity has extended far and wide, with the Katz family having provided essential services to vulnerable populations, opened their homes to hundreds of veteran families, volunteered extensively and served in advisory capacities across campus, and inspired other individuals and organizations to support UCLA.
Among Ron and Maddie Katz’s other contributions to UCLA was a gift to create a reimagined surgical waiting room at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. “Maddie’s Room” — deliberately not called a waiting room — today provides a welcoming, warm and comfortable space for families hoping for good news about a loved one in surgery.
Following Maddie’s death from pancreatic cancer in 2009, Katz made a donation to endow UCLA’s Maddie Katz Chair in Palliative Care Research and Education to improve quality of life for patients and their families facing issues associated with life-threatening illnesses. Later, his lead gift helped launch the 3 Wishes Project at UCLA, which provides personalized, end-of-life comfort to patients and families.
Over the years, the Katzes have given generously to other programs and areas across campus, including the UCLA Health Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, intercollegiate athletics and the Herb Alpert School of Music, where their gift led to the creation of the Mickey Katz Endowed Chair in Jewish Music at UCLA in honor of Ron's late father, the master musician and performer.
In 2013, gift from the Katzes’ sons Todd and Randy and their families led to the establishment of the Ronald A. Katz Center for Collaborative Military Medicine at UCLA to foster partnerships between the university and the U.S military in addressing the unique challenges of caring for the nation’s wounded veterans.
After graduating from UCLA in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Katz went on to a successful career as an inventor and entrepreneur. He holds more than 50 patents, and many of the technologies he developed continue to power customer service and call centers today.
“I am humbled to receive the Fiat Lux award, joining the distinguished company of some of the very best people I know,” Katz said at the award reception. “Everyone in this room is someone special to me. I have had the joy of working with so many of you on projects across this great UCLA campus and have been blessed by the loving support of my family and friends in these endeavors.”
Johnese Spisso, president of UCLA Health, CEO of the UCLA Hospital System and associate vice chancellor for health sciences, lauded the work of Ron Katz and his family.
“You have helped society rethink how we care for the most vulnerable among us — veterans, people awaiting surgery, families facing a terminal illness,” she said. “Your actions have also inspired thousands of people to support wounded warriors returning from war, and saved families in the process.”
Katz is the fifth recipient of the Fiat Lux Award, following Renee and Meyer Luskin in 2012, Arline and Henry Gluck in 2021, Jane Semel in August 2023, and Laurie and Steven C. Gordon in September 2023.