The first John Sealy was born in Pennsylvania; and in 1846 having heard stories of the new State of Texas, he moved to Galveston to seek his fortune. Galveston was the principal seaport and commercial center of Texas where he prospered in banking, shipping, railroads and cotton businesses. John Sealy married Rebecca Davis and they had two children, John and Jennie. He died in 1884 and in his will he left $50,000 for a charitable purpose in Galveston to be decided by his executors.
In 1881 Texas voters had decided to locate the University of Texas Medical Department in Galveston, but by the time of John Sealy's death it had not become a reality. His executors, wife Rebecca and brother George decided to build a hospital in Galveston with the bequest. The Sealy family paid the additional costs of construction not covered by the bequest and the John Sealy Hospital opened in 1890.
The Sealy family decision to build a hospital swayed the State finally to build the medical school in Galveston. Thus began the Sealy family 125-year legacy of healthcare involvement in Galveston.
For the next 32 years following the opening of the John Sealy Hospital – before the creation of the Foundation – the Sealy children directly supported the John Sealy Hospital by paying for repairs after the tragic hurricane of 1900 and building a woman's hospital in 1914 which the State matched by constructing a nurses' residence. In 1916 John Sealy donated $270,000 to remodel and refurnish the main hospital and from 1914 to 1922 provided $206,000 to pay toward hospital operating costs. The family also acquired property around the school for future medical center expansion.
John Sealy and Jennie Sealy Smith, joined by her husband, R. Waverley Smith, established the Foundation in 1922 to carry on the family concern for the healthcare of the people of Galveston. The purpose of the Foundation as stated in its charter is to provide for the construction and remodeling for the John Sealy Hospital and other hospital buildings in Galveston and endowment thereof "for the use of the people of said City of Galveston and providing them with the necessary medical care and attention therein." John died in 1926 and Jennie in 1938. Neither had children and the majority of their estates was willed to the Foundation.
The Foundation continues the Sealy family tradition and concern for the healthcare of the people of Galveston. The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) includes the current John Sealy Hospital as well as 24 buildings and facilities donated or owned by the Foundation. In 1998 the Foundation approved a grant to construct a Biosafety Level 4 Laboratory, which was the first such BSL-4 lab constructed on a university campus in the United States. The existence of the BSL-4 Lab was a contributing factor for construction of the first federally funded National Laboratory in Galveston following the events of September 11, 2001. The Foundation has also acquired cutting-edge medical equipment, established a Bio-Med research fund and has endowed 27 academic chairs.
Over the decades, the Foundation has made grants totaling over $850 million for healthcare related projects and programs on Galveston Island. It pledged $170 million to UTMB for the construction of a new Jennie Sealy Hospital on land provided by the Foundation. The new Hospital will feature nearly 250 family-centered patient rooms, state-of-the-art surgical and intensive care space, and areas for visiting and consultations with caregivers. The facility will open in early 2016 and complement the existing John Sealy Hospital; which is currently being renovated and modernized with a $75 million grant from the Foundation. In addition to assisting the UTMB mission financially, the Foundation provides logistical assistance to UTMB, owning and providing non-medical maintenance of clinics and other Foundation properties utilized by UTMB in the furtherance of its mission. The Foundation is a Type III supporting organization.