As a self-made billionaire and WWII veteran, Sumner Redstone was a larger-than-life figure in the grand tradition of the Hearsts, Paleys, and Pulitzers. Throughout his career, Redstone played an important role in the entertainment and communications industries, single-handedly transforming a family-owned drive-in theater company into a global media portfolio.
Beginning his career as a Harvard-trained lawyer, Redstone joined the entertainment industry in the 1960s with the formation of National Amusements. At one time, his vast empire included Paramount Pictures, MTV, Nickelodeon, Blockbuster, Simon & Schuster, and CBS. In 2019, his fortune was estimated at $3.9 billion. Redstone was also a noted philanthropist, and his foundation gave away hundreds of millions of dollars during his lifetime.
A gifted student, Redstone attended Harvard College in 1940 after graduating at the top of his class from the elite Boston Latin School. While a student at Harvard, Redstone focused on foreign languages, including German and Japanese. Before he could graduate, he was recruited for a U.S. Army intelligence unit that worked on cracking foreign military codes. Though he had left college in his junior year to join the military, Redstone was not asked to fulfill further graduation requirements and was awarded a bachelor's degree by the university's Board of Overseers in 1944. He was admitted to Harvard Law School the following year, graduating in 1947.
During his life, Redstone always took great pride in his affiliation with Harvard. A Boston native, Redstone was a frequent visitor and lecturer at Harvard Law School. In 2010 he established the Redstone Fellowship with a $1 million donation to his alma mater. The money provides much-needed legal services to groups who are traditionally marginalized. By 2014, Redstone had added another $10 million to Harvard's coffers.
Explaining his decision to gift such a sizeable amount to his alma mater, Redstone explained, "I've experienced firsthand the academic excellence, as well as the spirit of civic and social responsibility that Harvard fosters in its students... it is my hope that the Redstone Fellows will continue to put their intellectual tools to the best possible use in building a better world."
University leaders applauded Redstone’s ability to balance a legendary career with activism and philanthropy, noting that now they could continue to look forward to great accomplishments from future generations.