September 7, 2021

Benefactor Esther Fincher Hays leaves a lasting legacy at UCR

Her concerns about air pollution led to CE-CERT's Esther F. Hays Graduate Fellowship

Author: Sarah Nightingale
September 7, 2021

Esther Fincher Hays, an academic physician, community activist, and philanthropist who supported UC Riverside’s programs in medicine, engineering and music, died June 10, 2021 at her home in Riverside. She was 94 years old.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky and raised in Ithaca, NY, Hays attend Cornell University, Cornell Medical School, and completed her internship and residency at New York Hospital. There she met Dr. Daniel M. Hays, whom she married in 1951. In 1954 they moved to Los Angeles, where they raised four children. 

Esther Hays
Esther Hays

In 1955, Hays began a 38-year tenure on the faculty of the UCLA School of Medicine. For most of her career, she conducted research focusing on factors related to the development and growth of leukemia. Later she also focused her research on understanding HIV/AIDS, a relatively unknown disease at the time.

After her retirement in 1993, she and her husband moved to Riverside where she became involved in many community activities. She took a special interest in UC Riverside, advocating that the university get the attention and respect that older, more established UC campuses received.

“She felt a reputable institution of higher learning, offering graduate and doctoral programs, added value to a community,” said Hays’ daughter Liz. “She wanted to provide financial assistance to students to be able to flourish in their research unencumbered by tuition. She saw graduate research in the area of clean air admissions as a benefit to the Inland Empire as well as the rest of the county.”

Her interest and concerns related to air pollution prompted an endowed gift to the university that established the Esther F. Hays Graduate Fellowship in the Center for Environmental Research and Technology (CE-CERT). The fellowship is designed to encourage and aid graduate students pursuing careers involving clean air initiatives.

Matthew Barth, Yeager Families Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and CE-CERT director, said the center has awarded 34 fellowships in Hays’ name since the award was created in 1999. 

“Esther often visited CE-CERT and met the students honored with her fellowship, usually over lunch. She truly cared about pursuing a clean environment and the students who are paving a path to this goal. She will be missed by many of us here at CE-CERT.” 

Gifts from Hays and her family also created the Esther F. Hays Endowed Fund in Music in 2009 and the Daniel Hays Endowed Chair Fund in Cancer Research in 2006.

“I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing of our longtime friend and supporter Esther Hays,” said Deborah Deas, vice chancellor for health sciences and the Mark and Pam Rubin Dean of the School of Medicine. “Both she and Dr. Daniel Hays generously supported UCR School of Medicine students and our innovative research efforts that have helped to improve healthcare in our community. Esther Hays and family have given generously to UC Riverside, including the donation that endowed Dr. Maurizio Pellecchia’s position, the Daniel Hays Endowed Chair in Cancer Research. I am incredibly grateful for her steadfast support of our community-based medical school over the years.”


Hays also served on the boards of the Riverside Philharmonic and The Press Enterprise newspaper, as well as a UCR Foundation trustee. For 12 years she was an assistant to a board member for the South Coast Air Quality Management District. 

Hays is survived by a sister; two daughters and six grandchildren. She is preceded in death by her sister, husband, and two children.

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