A View from the Green
November 20, 2017

Back in 1987, as a promising young banking executive at Inglewood-based Imperial Bancorp, Don Douthwright rarely played golf. But his boss, Imperial’s co-founder, the late George Graziadio, was an avid golfer and a firm believer that the golf course was as useful as the boardroom for making connections and striking deals.

Among Graziadio’s other passions was supporting the advancement of the burgeoning local hospital, Torrance Memorial Medical Center. That year, the noted philanthropist founded the Torrance Memorial Golf Tournament as a way to raise funds. Imperial’s client, Rolling Hills Country Club, would host the tournament. The bank donated $5,000 and appointed Al Avoian as the tournament’s first chair.

“He [Graziadio] said to me, ‘You go out and raise the rest,’” says Douthwright, Imperial’s regional vice president at the time. Fortunately for Douthwright, many of his clients already played golf. “I ended up signing up about 20 to 30 golfers to participate from my client base. After just a few years, we began selling out and have sold out every year since.” Following Graziadio’s strong recommendation, he also took up the game.

He continues, “Back in those days Craig Leach [now Torrance Memorial’s president and CEO] was vice president of Finance at Torrance Memorial. We are the only two who have played in all of the tournaments.”

Douthwright took the helm as the Golf Tournament’s second chair nine years ago. Since then, the tournament’s nearly 20-member committee has worked to add sponsors to “everything we could name.” Through the years, local car dealerships including Martin Chevrolet (a sponsor since the tournament’s inception), Audi Pacific, Porsche South Bay, Land Rover South Bay, Scott Robinson Honda and South Bay Lexus have signed up as Hole-in-One Sponsors. (To date, there have been two Hole-in-One car winners.)

“George Graziadio had a great sense when it came to people. He saw something special in Don, and it’s a big testament to Don’s personal warmth that the Golf Tournament has been such a success year after year,” says Leach. “If Don asks you do to something, you just can’t say no to the guy. He’s that nice, and his enthusiasm for helping Torrance Memorial is real."

Through the years, Douthwright signed up clients for the tournament who would later prove instrumental to the medical center’s future. These included a team from locally based Murray Company, a mechanical contractor that provided services to Torrance Memorial during the recent construction of the Lundquist Tower. He also recruited Julie and Jackson Yang, avid golfers and founders/owners of Seville Classics, a leader in home organization systems. The Yangs continue to play in the tournament and in 2014 made a donation to name the Lundquist Tower’s Yang Café.

“It’s been relatively easy. I worried after the new tower finished [referencing construction contractors who have signed up teams to play],” he says. “But this year we had a waiting list again.” If clients didn’t actually participate, they would contribute in other ways. Gerry Turpanjian became a regular contributor of a big-ticket item for the tournament’s silent auction. Turpanjian is founder of Pacific Sales, a home appliance retailer acquired by Best Buy. In 2014, the Turpanjian family made a donation to name the Lundquist Tower Chapel and its Rehabilitation Center.

Douthwright has been fortunate enough to avoid visits to Torrance Memorial as a patient. But the Golf Tournament wasn’t his first introduction to the hospital. Not long after Torrance Memorial made the move to Lomita Boulevard from its first location on Engracia Avenue in Old Torrance, he and wife, Suzann, volunteered to help out with its other longtime fundraiser, Holiday Festival, now approaching its 34th year. At that time, the event was called the “Festival of the Trees.” It took place in the parking garage of the building now known as the North Patient Tower, which is currently undergoing renovations.

“I was an official light stringer and back then they sold wine in plastic cups for $4,” Douthwright says.The staff at Imperial Bank managed the payments at the festival. Suzann would bake 30 loaves of banana bread for the event’s “Bake Shop.”

Over time, the Holiday Festival evolved and grew substantially in scale and sophistication. For this, he credits the leadership of current Foundation Executive Vice President Laura Schenasi and her staff. It now hosts a black-tie gala (serving wine in glassware) and a live and silent auction featuring big-ticket items. It was there the Douthwrights purchased their first family dog, Goliath, a yellow Labrador Retriever. Through the years, they have also purchased decorated themed holiday trees, Cabo trips and game tickets.

“People like to participate in things that are fun and still help the community,” Suzann says of the popularity of Holiday Festival and the Golf Tournament. Don agrees and adds, “They like to participate because Torrance Memorial is a fantastic hospital. It’s a great asset for the South Bay community, where you know you will have first-class health care and be local.”

Douthwright retired in 2007 from Comerica Bank, which acquired Imperial Bancorp in 2001. He came out of retirement to join City National Bank as senior vice president and manager but retired again in 2013. He now works from their Rancho Palos Verdes home for his own firm, Island View Consulting, which provides business support to small entrepreneurial companies.

Suzann had transitioned from a career as a physical education teacher to becoming a flight attendant, when the couple met in their late 30s. She was also working for her dad’s business, Phillips Tire Company, as she dubs herself, “her dad’s only son.”

“Not only was she beautiful, but she was a great cook and she had two jobs,” Douthwright says jokingly of Suzann. Douthwright eventually helped to sell the tire business to American Tire Depot in 2013, so his wife could retire.

Recognizing their dedication to Torrance Memorial, nearly a decade ago, Judith Gassner, Torrance Memorial Foundation’s senior director of development and principal gifts, suggested the couple consider becoming involved in the Ambassadors. The Ambassadors is a premier annual giving group that supports the Torrance Memorial Burn Center, Oncology Services, Rehabilitation Services and Health Education.

As the name suggests, members also spread the word to others in the community about Torrance Memorial. The couple enjoys the opportunity to meet new people at the group’s biennial dinner. Douthwright also appreciates that it helps pay for the Burn Center’s costly state-of-the-art equipment. He recalls several of his former clients in the heavy machinery industry had chosen Torrance Memorial as their go-to medical center because of its verified Burn Center (one of three in Los Angeles County).

“Torrance Memorial really strives to be the best and aims to provide care that is all-inclusive in every division of medicine and not just in one specialty area,” Suzann says. “Fortunately we haven’t had to utilize the hospital, but it’s nice to be a referral source and help direct people to a specialist when they’re in need.”

These days (at least up until recently when the club closed for a major remodel) Douthwright can be found playing golf three days a week at Rolling Hills Country Club. He’s looking forward to next year’s event, which will return to the newly opened Rolling Hills Country Club on June 4.

“It’s going to be pretty spectacular,” Douthwright says. “It [the club] will have a fabulous new course by Scottish designer David Kidd and a 65,000-square-foot clubhouse with sweeping 180° views of Los Angeles.”

Times have certainly changed. Douthwright is now admittedly hooked on golf. And Graziadio, as it turns out, was spot-on about recommending the game.