Downton Abbey, the hit PBS show about the aristocracy in post-Edwardian-era England, makes millions of viewers’ hearts soar, but it might not have happened without the timely support of a heart valve and the generosity of a few prominent medical device industry folks.
In 2004, Masterpiece (formerly Masterpiece Theater) was on life support when its single-largest corporate sponsor, Exxon Mobil, pulled the plug after more than 3 decades. After years of trying to replace the oil company’s backing, Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton helped launch the Masterpiece Trust, a private fund "for individual philanthropists and families who care deeply about the series to support it in a substantial way: with gifts of $25,000 or more," according to PBS.
In 2012, the fund was buoyed by a $1 million donation from San Diego, Calif., philanthropist Darlene Shiley, wife of the late medical device inventor Donald Shiley (who revolutionized the heart valve industry with his Bjork-Shiley tilting heart valve).
Shiley, an engineer from Oregon, began his career at Edwards Laboratories, the pre-cursor to Edwards Lifesciences (NYSE:EW), working with Lowell Edwards on what would become the Starr-Edwards mechanical mitral valve. He famously branched out on his own in 1971, forming the Shiley Co. to release the aforementioned heart valve, revolutionizing the field and bringing great fortune to its inventor.
James Mazzo, former CEO of Abbott Medical Optics and a previous chairman of AdvaMed (along with his wife Kelly) are also generous backers of the Masterpiece Fund and have even participated in a Downton Abbey-themed ball supporting the fund and local PBS affiliates in Orange County, Calif.
While the fund doesn’t publicly list the amount of support it receives from individuals, the Mazzos are apparently generous enough that they warrant mention at the start of every episode of Masterpiece.
Mazzo, who retired from Abbott Medical Optics after 10 years at the helm this past December, hasn’t hinted at his future plans. Perhaps his generous support will earn him a walk-on role at Downton as the Earl of Orange County.