09/30/2014 04:41 EDT | Updated 09/30/2014 04:59 EDT

Former B.C. Premier's Alzheimer's Prompts $9.1 Million Donation To UBC

Toronto Star Archives via Getty Images
CANADA - NOVEMBER 27: Big spenders: Saskatchewan's Allan Blakeney, left, Alberta's Peter Lougheed, centre, and B.C.'s Bill Bennett have massive resource investments. But Ontario Premier Bill Davis has not joined the party. (Photo by Toronto Star Archives/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

A Canadian diamond miner is donating $9.1 million for Alzheimer's research because his longtime friend — and former B.C. premier — Bill Bennett is living with the disease.

Charles Fipke has given $3 million to create a professorship at the University of British Columbia dedicated to Alzheimer's research, said a news release Tuesday.

Fipke has also committed $5.5 million to support the purchase of brain imaging technology, and $600,000 to supply the professor's lab with "cutting-edge equipment." Dr. Haakon Nygaard has left the Yale School of Medicine to take up the new position at UBC.

The school said Fipke's gifts were motivated by the plight of his friend, Bennett, who was the premier of B.C. from 1975 to 1986. His father, W.A.C. Bennett, was the province's longest serving premier from 1952 to 1972.

Brad Bennett, Bill's son, expressed the family's gratitude to Fipke in a statement:

"We are very moved by his reasons for doing it. The end game has to be to find a cure for this. We still don’t know what causes this disease and there are far too many people afflicted with it and far too many families like ours suffering the horrible consequences. They say with Alzheimer’s patients you say goodbye twice, the first of those being the most difficult because you’re saying goodbye to the person you knew and loved while they are still alive."

Charles Fipke, left, with Dr. Haakon Nygaard, the Fipke Professor in Alzheimer’s Research. (Photo: Brian Kladko/UBC)

Fipke, who was born in Kelowna, is a UBC alumnus. The geologist, prospector, and entrepreneur spent weeks in the backcountry near the Arctic Circle before finding diamonds at Lac de Gras in the Northwest Territories in 1991. He co-founded the Ekati Mine, the first commercial diamond mine in North America, jump-starting the Canadian diamond industry, according to the news release.

In 2011, Canadian diamonds accounted for 18 per cent of the world’s rough diamond production by value, ranking third behind Russia and Botswana, said UBC.

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