The heart of any great university lies in its academic strength — in the innovative and forward-thinking professors and deans whose work is both the guiding light of the university and the way it reaches into the world and changes it for the better. The financial, endowed support of the work of Washington University faculty is essential if the university is to continue its climb among the world’s greatest institutions and move forward with creative ideas and insightful research topics that impact the world.
Gifts that support faculty members and academic leaders are rooted in both the distant and the more recent past, but, whether funds were endowed in 1919 or 2019, they share in common the belief and vision of their donors that excellence matters and change is possible if we put our trust in the talented women and men who bring their substantial gifts and talents to Washington University.
Endowed deanships and professorships honor both those who hold them and the donors or honorees whose names in perpetuity will be associated with them. Most importantly, the fund associated with the position allows its holders to respond to both age-old social and scientific challenges as well as emerging needs like those associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Philanthropy is at its very best when the interests of the donors and the needs of an institution coalesce and create something new that benefits the community and the larger world. Michael and Noémi Neidorff have put that mindset into practice for many years through their support of disadvantaged youth, education, and the arts. In 2016, a $5 million commitment from the Neidorffs and The Centene Charitable Foundation established the Neidorff Family and Centene Corporation Deanship at the Brown School with Mary McKay as the inaugural holder — a perfect match for advancing human health and improving quality of life for many.
Mary M. McKay joined the Brown School as dean in 2016, continuing the school’s legacy of creating vital knowledge, initiating social change, and preparing leaders to address social and health challenges both locally and globally. Her academic experience connects deeply to both social work and public health, and she has received substantial federal funding for research focused on meeting the mental health and health prevention needs of youth and families impacted by poverty. Under her leadership, the Brown School has built upon the strengths of the social work and public health programs and expanded the academic discipline of social policy. Dean McKay has deepened the Brown School’s commitment to racial, health, and economic equity through research, teaching, and community partnerships.
Mary Tileston Hemenway was a forward-thinking 19th-century woman with a charitable spirit and perfect timing. Although Hemenway lived in Boston, she gave generously to the fledgling Washington University at a crucial time in its development. Introduced to the university during an 1862 fundraising trip to Boston by founder William Greenleaf Eliot, over the next 20 years she gave occasional gifts “so large and so timely” that they proved to be the “turning point of our progress and success,” Eliot wrote. Universities have long memories of such generosity.
In 2002, the Mary Tileston Hemenway Professorship in Arts & Sciences was established to honor her contributions to Washington University, and in 2020 Adia Harvey Wingfield became the second holder of the professorship. Wingfield is a founding member of the university’s rejuvenated sociology department and a leading expert on gender equity and racial inequality. Her research examines how intersections of race, gender, and class affect social processes at work. She was awarded the C. Wright Mills Award from The Society for the Study of Social Problems for her 2019 book, “Flatlining: Race, Work, and Health Care in the New Economy,” which explores how economic, cultural, and structural changes in workplaces affect Black health care professionals. Wingfield’s research has also been published in numerous peer-reviewed journals and mainstream outlets, including a recent article in Harvard Business Review about the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on Black health care workers.
With perfect timing, Mary Tileston Hemenway’s vision and generosity is still at work.
For more than 30 years, one St. Louis couple worked in extraordinarily generous ways to fight cancer and other diseases and to support the scientists and physicians responsible for medical breakthroughs. The late Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff donated more than $80 million to the School of Medicine supporting many areas of research, including Alzheimer’s disease, heart transplant, bacterial sepsis, dermatology, cell biology, and critical care medicine. They provided for 20 professorships and specific research funds in cancer and ophthalmology. Edith Wolff created a noninterest-bearing loan fund for medical students and established the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Institute, which supports biomedical research projects that lead to the prevention, treatment, and cure of disease.
In 2014, the late couple’s trust created the Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Professorship in Medicine in support of the work of Sarah K. England, an authority on the mechanisms underlying uterine function during pregnancy. England’s work aims to reduce the frequency of preterm labor, the leading cause of newborn death in the United States. Her research has been funded by agencies such as the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, and the March of Dimes. From 2005 to 2006, as a Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow, England worked on policies related to maternal child health issues, women’s health, and the health care workforce. Notably, she drafted the Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act, which was signed into law on April 24, 2008.
The late Dr. Seymour, AB ’40, MD ’40, and Rose Tropp Brown, AB ’36, both St. Louis natives, met while at Washington University in the mid-1930s when he was an undergraduate studying medicine. They married in 1941 and, following his Pacific combat service as a Navy physician during World War II, they returned to St. Louis, where Dr. Brown became one of the foremost pioneering and innovative anesthesiologists in the Midwest. The couple and their son, Donald E. Brown, have a long history of philanthropy with the School of Medicine, including two endowed professorships bearing their names.
In 2015, Michael Avidan was named a Dr. Seymour and Rose T. Brown Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, of which he was named chair in 2019. Avidan is a renowned investigator in the field of perioperative outcomes research and has led eﬀorts to use telemedicine, artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve outcomes for surgical patients. Currently, Avidan is one of the principal investigators of an international group of physicians and scientists evaluating promising therapies for COVID-19 and helping to support research and development to bring eﬀective, accessible treatments to market as quickly as possible. With Avidan and the School of Medicine serving as the clinical coordinating center, the group is leading the first large scale clinical trial to evaluate whether the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) can protect front-line health-care workers against infection from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.
Robert W. Gereau IV was named a Dr. Seymour and Rose T. Brown Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology in 2014. As director of the Washington University Pain Center, Gereau’s research has taken him to the forefront of pain neurobiology, including studying changes in brain circuitry associated with chronic pain, and advancing developments in implantable electronics, which can detect the presence of an opioid overdose. His research has been continuously supported by the National Institutes of Health for more than 20 years, and his current research explores the key role of the neural receptor “mGlu5” in the development of chronic pain. Regarded as a visionary leader and dedicated mentor, Gereau was named the inaugural vice chair for research in the Department of Anesthesiology in 2019.