Paul J. DiMare had a dream of ‘curing the incurable’
The longtime University of Miami trustee and successful businessman, who passed away from Lou Gehrig’s disease late last year, had been working to start a new institute that would search for cures for debilitating neurodegenerative disorders. His family members are now carrying on his dream.
As Paul J. DiMare looked out the window of the helicopter as it slowly circled storm-ravaged southern Miami-Dade County, the influential tomato farmer and successful businessman suddenly turned to his wife, Swanee, and said, “We must help. We absolutely need to help.”
It was only a day or two after Hurricane Andrew had devastated Homestead and Florida City, and DiMare and his wife had taken the tour with a United States government official to survey the damage caused by the cyclone.
“He saw the tremendous devastation, and he also saw the Red Cross on the ground at work,” Swanee DiMare recalled of that helicopter tour 30 years ago. “He became inspired by the Red Cross’s efforts to aid hurricane victims and made it a mission to support the nonprofit, donating not only funds but his time and talents.”
That was quintessential DiMare, a human being “who often looked upon the suffering of others and always helped,” Swanee DiMare said.
That benevolence was pervasive throughout his life. Even as he succumbed to the complications of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, the longtime University of Miami trustee and philanthropist continued to practice goodwill, making a multitude of phone calls late into the evening from his private study to rally support for finding a cure for the progressive neurodegenerative disorder—not for himself but for the thousands who suffer from it.
“It kept him going,” Swanee DiMare said of her husband. “He read and learned everything he could about ALS and the medical research that was being done to find the cause and a cure. And he did so right up until his death.”
DiMare, who, as CEO and president of DiMare Fresh became the largest grower of fresh-market tomatoes in the nation, passed away on Dec. 30. He was 81.
He was diagnosed with ALS in 2021. “But he never gave up to the disease,” Swanee DiMare said. “He battled on and continued his important work.”
ALS affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. About 5,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with ALS each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In most ALS patients, the cause of the disease is unknown.
More common in men than women, it is often called Lou Gehrig’s disease after the legendary New York Yankees first baseman who contracted it in 1939, delivering his “Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth” farewell speech at Yankee Stadium that same year.
It became DiMare’s dream to assemble the greatest minds in the world to find a cure for ALS and other disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries. “It was my dad’s passion. He wanted to form a special institute, a Manhattan Project to cure the incurable is how he often described it,” said Gino DiMare, head coach of the Miami Hurricanes baseball team, whose mother, Carole, his father’s former wife, died from Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2011.
The institute DiMare envisioned would be operated through the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. A special endowment, the DiMare Memorial Fund at The Miami Project, has already been established and will provide support to fight neurodegenerative disorders that still have no cure.
Marc Buoniconti, president of the Miami Project and of the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, called DiMare, a Buoniconti Fund board member, “larger than life. His presence and impact have left a legacy that will endure forever.”
Swanee DiMare, Gino DiMare, and other family members intend to continue the important work of DiMare to establish an institute dedicated to curing neurological diseases. “We’re going to make sure we’re vocal, that our voices are heard and that we’re doing the things that dad would have wanted us to do,” Gino DiMare said. “We’re going to do our best to keep his dream alive.”