By Sienna Boucher
The islands attract many different types of people- one of them even invented health care products that can be found in homes across the country. David Giuliani, inventor of the Sonicare toothbrush and Clarisonic face brush, passed March 3 at the age of 75 after a 10-year battle with cancer. The Giuliani family purchased a home in San Juan County in 2001 and began to spend much of their time there in 2012.
“He operated with a lot of integrity,” said his son Dan Giuliani. “That is something I know is always really important to him and is important to me and my sister. He really made that a high priority. Being true to your word and trying to do the right thing whenever possible.”
Described as a serial entrepreneur, David was born in San Francisco on May 26, 1946. He went on to graduate from Stanford University with an electrical engineering degree. Afterward, he went to work at Hewlett-Packard.
With his own struggle with plaque, he was compelled to invent a toothbrush that would get the job done better than ordinary non-electric ones. Two other co-inventors included University of Washington professors, Dr. David Engel and Dr. Roy Martin. They began working on a model in the late 1980s and in 1992, the first official Sonicare model was born.
“I grew up in a house where this toothbrush started out as an idea,” Dan said. “We had these prototypes in the garage and, you know, he was a tinkerer, right, he’s an electrical engineer. So he was, you know, messing with different versions and how to find exactly the right frequency of sound so that the sound waves would have the maximum effect on knocking the plaque off your teeth.”
Nicole Giuliani, David’s daughter, said she realized that after the toothbrush came out, her dad became much busier. Despite having a lot on his plate, he always made room for family.
“No matter how busy he was or if he was in a meeting, he’d pick up the phone if we called,” she said. “He might say ‘hey I gotta call you back,’ but he always answered.”
Family dinners were very important to the Giuliani’s.
“Even though he was busy, he’d rush home for dinner,” Nicole said. “I remember him yelling to announce his arrival, I’m here, I’m here!’” she laughed.
With the business came a lot of stress. David had put senior scientist Robb Akridge in charge of science litigation as they were attacked by Oral-B. Despite any struggles, Sonicare became the nation’s fastest-growing company before he sold it to Philips in 2000.
After the company was sold, Dan said the family started to reap its rewards.
Money did not seem to be the end-all-be-all for David though. According to Dan he continued to brainstorm ideas.
“You know, some people would have just stopped there and retired and gone off and had fun,” Dan said. “But he just flipped into this whole ‘want to start my next thing’ and invented the Clarisonic skincare brush. And that was just a couple of years later.”
Akridge also went on to be one of the co-founders of Clarisonic. According to Akridge, he and David weren’t quite sure what they were doing when they first went into it.
“We thought, okay, what’s the biggest problem in skincare? That’s acne,” Akridge said. “So from there, we decided, okay, how can you unplug a pore? And that’s how we came up with Clarisonic.”
Akridge stated that throughout that process, he realized what he learned from David was to listen and not rush to assumptions.
“If you assume too much then you might go down the wrong path,” Akridge said. “It’s interesting because it’s all about chemistry and you have these different types of personalities trying to make things work. Everybody provided their own part. We clicked and we had a huge success. David was a mentor and a friend.”
Eventually, Clarisonic was sold to Loreal in 2011.
David, being the serial entrepreneur he was, continued inventing a number of other gadgets.
When David became sick, the family spent much of their time in the hospital. Sometimes, the doctors and nurses even used one of David’s own inventions on him: the bladder scanner.
“When dad would get his bladder scanned he’d tell the nurses all about how they worked,” Dan said. “They’d be like, ‘you seem to know an awful lot about bladder scanners’,” he laughed.
David eventually turned his inventor energy to venture out into environmental justice. David seemed to have the impression entrepreneurs such as himself have the ability to create environmentally-friendly products and business habits.
“He saw this gap between environmental activists who saw no other considerations except environment,” Dan said. “And business activists, who saw no other considerations except money and economy. He wanted to bridge this gap and show that you can do both.”
In the Washington Legislature, Giuliani was involved for years in efforts to develop a law that would put a price on carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions.
He founded Clean and Prosperous America, Clean and Prosperous Washington, and the Low Carbon Prosperity Institute. These organizations helped lead to the passing of the Climate Commitment Act.
The act, passed in May of 2021, taxes carbon emissions. The law covers 100 large emitters in the state equalling approximately 75% of the overall annual greenhouse gas emissions.
Once David began to spend more time on San Juan Island, he became very supportive of The Madrona Institute, which contributes to the environment through youth stewardship programs. Local Sarah Severn had met David in 2016 and started to work with the Washington Business Alliance and subsequently Clean and Prosperous Washington, and she introduced him to The Madrona Institute. On January 26, David was the first recipient of The Madrona Institute’s Climate Leadership Award.
“Our mission is to engage current and future generations in the conservation and stewardship of our local ecosystem and to encourage community dialogue and leadership on climate-related issues. This mission is accomplished through youth conservation and stewardship corps in the San Juan Islands, and through initiatives on climate change,” states the institute’s website.
On March 12, The Madrona Institute planted two Pacific madrone trees in David’s honor at the Ihiya Biological Preserve.
“He was just a remarkable man,” Severen said. “He just had so much energy. You’d think that at 75 you’d be thinking about retiring, but he just didn’t stop. He was relentless.”
“David was just a phenomenal person,” said Akridge. “His mind was very fast. He was very analytical.”
The Giuliani family will continue to frequently visit their island home and stay involved with the community. The home holds great importance to the siblings as both David and their mother Patricia, have their ashes scattered on the property.
“As soon as the pandemic hit, dad was like ‘That’s it I’m moving to the islands full-time!” Nicole laughed.
“My dad’s wish was to spend his final days on our island property. It has this amazing view,” Dan said. “He loved this island and its community.”