Over the weekend, legendary “Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek passed away from pancreatic cancer at the age of 80. The worldwide response across generations has been striking, with fans recalling Trebek’s afro days, his rapport with legendary contestant (and possible new host) Ken Jennings and even a more recent classic moment during a teen tournament. Let the record show that while this writer never made it on the show, a friend of a friend (of a friend?) did.
There’s a lot of goodwill out there toward Trebek as a pop culture icon, but he and wife Jean also earned a reputation for their philanthropy. Through the years, the couple established a steady track record of giving, launching the Trebek Family Foundation in 2011. At the time, Trebek remarked that forming the foundation “forced a change” in him. “Before, I’d get tons and tons of requests from different charities… Once you form a charitable foundation, it becomes easier to give. It’s brought about a nice change,” he said.
While the “Jeopardy!” website is chock-full of information about applying for its college, teen, teacher and adult tournaments, Alex and Jean Trebek’s own charity operated, like many other family foundations, with a minimal web presence. Still, in recent years, it has given away in the six- and seven-figure range annually. Top interests include education, the arts, and health and human services.
This summer, the Trebeks gave $500,000 to Hope of the Valley Rescue Mission to fight the homelessness crisis in the Los Angeles area, following up a $100,000 donation to the charity earlier in the year. Unsurprisingly, Los Angeles is one area of important grantmaking. The family have also supported places like American Film Institute (Trebek has hosted its Hollywood trivia event) and Learning Rights Law Center.
In education, Trebek backed his north-of-the-border alma mater, University of Ottawa, including making a $5 million donation to the school to create the Forum for Dialogue, a new platform to discuss “provocative, timely and constructive ideas on issues that matter to Canadians.” Back stateside, the couple have supported Trebek son’s school, Fordham University in New York, endowing a $1 million scholarship fund. At Stephens College in Missouri, the couple funded an endowed chair in screenwriting. The connection here is that writer Ken LaZebnik, who founded the Stephens College low-residency MFA in Television and Screenwriting, is a friend of the family.
The family supports other arts and cultural organizations like Henry E. Huntington Library and Art Gallery, the Actors Fund of America, National Geographic Society, and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. Trebek has long been involved with United Service Organizations and has a strong interest in World War II history, as well.
The trivia icon was diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer in 2019 and worked with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN). He also had a soft spot for the mighty musk ox, and is reportedly one of the Musk Ox Development Corporation’s most robust donors over the years.
Worth an estimated $75 million when he died, Trebek and his philanthropic legacy will now live on through his children and wife Jean, a professional reiki healer and native New Yorker.