From family tragedy to family tradition: Robert Zinn’s journey of support for biomedical sciences

At the age of 26, Robert Zinn's life took an irrevocable turn when he experienced the untimely loss of his beloved older sister.

Grief is a complex and personal experience, and everyone handles it differently. “In my father’s grief,” Zinn said, “he established the Zelda Zinn Casper Foundation to honor my sister’s memory and advance liver regeneration research at UTMB, since liver failure was a major contributor to her passing.”

Little did Zinn realize, seeing his father’s action would sow the seeds of his own tradition of philanthropy in biomedical sciences at UTMB.

Years later, his father passed away, and Zinn became trustee of the foundation. As a successful oil businessman, he quickly realized that the foundation could amplify its impact by working closely with UTMB to direct additional contributions where they could influence the most significant transformations.

This sparked Zinn to meet with UTMB leadership, ultimately leading him and his sister, Natalie, to make their first gifts to the university in 1988, establishing the Zelda Zinn Casper Scholars Endowment. This scholarship would support a second-year student in the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences who demonstrates outstanding research ability.

“At the time, the dean told me there was nothing like that at UTMB,” Zinn said, recalling the conversation. “I found that intriguing, and it seemed like a good thing to do.”

Since then, the scholarship has supported dozens of aspiring scientists, many of whom Zinn has met. In fact, Zinn credits his interactions with scholarship recipients and seeing their accomplishments as a key motivator for his ongoing support.

“These students go on to do important work,” Zinn said. “And UTMB’s role in their career speaks for itself.”

Since his initial gift, Zinn and his wife, Edith, have contributed over $1 million toward biomedical research, including a presidential scholarship, a professorship, and most recently a chair in drug discovery.

“I think it’s important to maintain UTMB’s high quality biomedical sciences program,” Zinn remarked.

“My family has always revered UTMB as the pinnacle of intellectual achievement in the medical community, and I still consider it to be one of the best.”