When Vice President of Finance and Administration Joseph Mullinix tapped a former fur business operator with a public health degree to be Yale’s budget director in 1996, some of the University’s top brass thought Mullinix had flipped his lid.

Outgoing budget director Gary Sax EPH ’73 was then director of planning for the School of Medicine, with no master’s of business administration degree and only limited exposure to University budget figures. Mullinix, who developed confidence in Sax through administrative dealings with the Medical School, hired him for the post nevertheless.

Since 1996, Sax has led Yale’s Office of Budget and Planning, serving in an important administrative role that integrates the University’s financial policy with planning efforts. His professional staff of 16 people frequently uses complex models to track important components of Yale’s $1.3 billion budget.

Sax has seen the University’s financial position become more favorable in the last five years as endowment growth has pumped millions of additional dollars into the budget.

But his tenure as Yale’s chief number cruncher is about to end. Sax is leaving July 6 to retire with his wife to Tucson, Ariz.

“It’s one of the best jobs at Yale — a plum position,” Sax said. “I’m not leaving Yale with any unhappiness.”

Sax said that while most of what he and his staff do is routine, they relish opportunities to analyze the financial impact of quick decisions or plans by Yale officers.

“We like working hard, fast and on deadline,” Sax said.

Administrators say Sax was a brilliant hire who has had a significant impact on the University. His departure will not go unnoticed.

“Building on the shoulders of his predecessors, he has brought the stature and respect for that office to a new high in terms of the respect and authority it commands across the University,” said Provost Alison Richard, Yale’s chief academic and financial officer. “I’ll miss him as a colleague and it just goes to show what happens when people get holiday homes in the sunshine — it’s always a risk.”

Sax recently purchased a home in Tucson and he and his wife found themselves spending increasing amounts of time there. In March, he informed Yale officers that he would be leaving to move west permanently.

An avid outdoorsman, Sax, at 56, still enjoys rock climbing, camping and 15-mile day hikes.

“I’m leaving Yale to become a climbing bum,” Sax said.

After completing undergraduate work at the University of Wisconsin, Sax enrolled in the Medical School’s Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, graduating in 1973. He then conducted public health research until 1978 when he was lured into his family’s fur business.

After 16 years in the fur industry, Sax decided that “it was no longer an interesting business to be in.” He returned to Yale in 1994 as a senior planning associate at the Medical School, where he later became director of planning.

Sax’s westerly departure is preceded by Mullinix’s move to the University of California system last year. Administrators say that both were unexpected Yale losses.

A search process for Sax’s successor is underway, with an announcement expected over the summer, Richard said.

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