John A. Moran, whose fortune helped launch the U.’s Moran Eye Center, dies at 91

The financial executive was inspired by his mother’s Bible stories to support eyesight research.

John A. Moran, the financial executive and philanthropist whose interest in eyesight led to the creation of the Moran Eye Center at the University of Utah, has died.

Moran died Saturday, Sept. 23, the university announced Wednesday. No cause of death was reported, but he “was surrounded by his family as he passed away peacefully,” according to a university release. He was 91.

“John’s death leaves a huge hole in our hearts,” Dr. Randall J. Olson, CEO of the Moran Eye Center, said in the university’s release. “He was a true friend with a desire to help others, and his dedication to our vision to provide hope, understanding, and treatment deeply motivated me and everyone at Moran to strive for excellence.”

Moran made his money in finance — he started at an investment banking firm in 1958, after serving in the U.S. Navy, and retired in 1998 as president and CEO of the private holding company Dyson-Kissner-Moran Corp. — but it was a meeting with Olson, and hearing Olson’s dream of doing research that might eventually restore eyesight to the blind, that moved him.

Neither Moran nor his family had vision problems. But talking to Olson, Moran once wrote, put him in mind of Bible stories his mother told him as a child. “I was particularly touched by the story of the blind beggar, the power of faith, and the miraculous restoration of his sight,” Moran wrote.

That Bible story, Moran wrote, was a reminder that “we must never give up hope that we can accomplish things that were previously considered impossible.”

A donation from Moran established the center’s first building, the university said, and he also contributed to build the center’s current headquarters in 2006 — a five-story building that he helped design, with a wall of glass windows that allows patients who receive the center’s sight-restoring surgeries and treatment to look out on the Salt Lake Valley.

John A. Moran was born March 22, 1932, in Los Angeles, and his family moved to Salt Lake City in 1941. He attended the University of Utah, earning money for tuition by waiting tables, working as a city flag boy for a Salt Lake City road crew and rewinding signal wire at Hill Air Force Base. He graduated with a banking and finance degree in 1954, shortly after his father died.

He served three years in the Navy, as an intelligence officer for the commander of the Pacific fleet, before starting his finance career at the investment banking firm Blyth & Company in 1958.

In 1967, Moran joined Dyson-Kissner Corp., a private holding company. When he made partner, his name was added to the company’s name.

Moran was a major contributor and fundraiser for the Republican Party. He chaired the Republican National Finance Committee from 1993 to 1995. He was finance chairman for Kansas Sen. Robert Dole’s unsuccessful 1996 presidential campaign, and co-chaired the Republican Leadership Council in Washington, and co-chaired John McCain’s national finance committee for his 2008 presidential campaign.

At the University of Utah, Moran was also a supporter of the L.S. Skaggs, Jr. Pharmacy Research Building, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Huntsman Cancer Institute. He served as an honorary trustee of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (where he bankrolled the John A. and Carole O. Moran Gallery for later Roman art and sarcophagi), and a trustee at the George and Barbara Bush Endowment for Innovation Cancer Research at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

In 2012, when he received the Horatio Alger award, Moran said that success is “not the money. Success is being satisfied with what you’ve accomplished, comfortable with yourself in terms of what you’re doing. That’s all I am. No better, no worse than anybody else.”

Moran is survived by his wife, Carole, their three daughters — Kellie, Marisa and Elizabeth — five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Memorial services have not been announced.