President William D. Underwood announced on Jan. 11 that a $1.5 million donation from an anonymous source will benefit Mercer University’s School of Medicine.
The $1.5 million gift was given to the university to fund an endowed chair in the School of Medicine to honor Dr. Rufus C. Harris, Mercer’s 16th president.
Harris started his presidency on Nov. 6, 1959. He also served as both a professor and Dean of Mercer’s Law School from 1923 to 1927.
Harris’ career as president lasted from 1960 to 1979. It was in the later years of his presidency that planning for the medical school began.
“This planning lead to the successful founding of the Mercer School of Medicine under the leadership of Mercer’s 17th president, Dr. R. Kirby Godsey,” Underwood said.
“Recognizing Harris in this way is especially appropriate given that it was during his tenure as president that planning began toward launching a medical school committed to improving rural health,” Underwood said.
Underwood also announced that the donation would be used to found the Rufus C. Harris Endowed Chair in Rural Health and Health Disparities.
This will enable the School of Medicine to recruit a national leader in rural health to direct the Center for Rural Health and Health Disparities.
“The Chair will work within the administrative structure of the School of Medicine to develop faculty member partners with interest and expertise to establish an agenda for the center’s work,” said Dr. William Bina, Dean of the School of Medicine.
The CRHHD was established in the Medical School’s Department of Community Medicine in 2008 with a mission to improve the health and well-being of rural and undeserved communities in Georgia and the Southeast through interdisciplinary research and collaboration.
“This new center will be able to study all the factors related to rural health and health disparities, including incentives for physicians and other health professionals to start up a practice and maintain it in the community over time,” Bina said.
“Beneficiaries will principally include the citizens of Georgia, students and participating faculty members,” Bina said.
“The professor will focus their efforts on improving rural health care and the disparities that many in rural and medically underserved areas of Georgia face on a daily basis,” John Patterson said, who is involved with securing charitable financial support for the university.
“Proceeds from the endowment will be used in part to pay the salary of the faculty member recruited into this new Chair position,” Bina said.
“Part of the reason given for the donation was that the responsible party had been a long-time admirer of former President Rufus Harris and has wanted to see a significant tribute to his legacy at Mercer,” Patterson said.
“Since much of the planning for the medical school occurred during his administration, it was thought that the medical school would be an appropriate location for this endowed academic position,” Patterson said.
Patterson also said that the gift was not entirely a surprise for the university and the School of Medicine.
“The source had indicated their intent to honor Dr. Harris and this was their way to fulfill that desire. It was their intent to place this gift at the Medical School,” Patterson said.
While it was not released how the donor made contact with the university, Patterson said that gifts of this magnitude were not common.
“The university has received seven-figure gifts before, but this would be one of the larger anonymous gifts received in the university’s history,” Patterson said.