The Cockrell Foundation Nurtures Excellence in Cancer Research
The words “philanthropy” and “family” are almost synonymous when Ernest H. Cockrell of Houston describes his philosophy of giving. His parents, the late Virginia H. and Ernie Cockrell Jr., left a legacy that continues through The Cockrell Foundation, established in 1966, and the Cockrell Family Foundation, established in 1998 to promote leadership among the next generation and make them “better givers.”
“It’s an opportunity to be involved and see dreams come to fruition,” says Cockrell, who chaired MD Anderson’s Board of Visitors (BOV) in 2008-2009 and currently serves as a member of the BOV’s Campaign to Transform Cancer Care Executive Committee. “Mother and Dad instilled the culture of giving, and we try to pass their vision and legacy on. It’s a generational commitment to achieve positive results through strategic giving.”
Certainly that philosophy has resulted in a number of innovative research and patient care initiatives at MD Anderson. A recent gift from The Cockrell Foundation to Making Cancer History®: The Campaign to Transform Cancer Care continues the family’s philanthropic tradition, ensuring endowment funds designated for training the next generation of leaders in cancer research. The endowment’s lasting benefits can only be imagined at this point, says Cockrell, better known as “Ernie” among business associates, family and friends.
“It’s like a domino effect, excellence building excellence,” he says. “You start small, develop critical mass, and over time the corollary effects can have an impact on the whole institution.”
Cockrell’s involvement with MD Anderson’s Board of Visitors began in 1975, “when Bob Mosbacher was chair and Ben Love was leading a capital campaign.” Thirty years later, in September 2005, Cockrell flexed his own leadership skills as chair of the South Campus Research Initiative, at the time MD Anderson’s most aggressive research expansion effort. The SCRI launched the Red and Charline McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer and ultimately raised $135 million. Private SCRI support under Cockrell’s watch surpassed philanthropic goals, ahead of schedule, and enabled numerous scientific advances at the McCombs Institute during its first year of operation.
Cockrell’s dedication to MD Anderson has deeply personal roots. He was a freshman at The University of Texas at Austin in 1963 when his mother was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and began treatment at MD Anderson. In 1972, Virginia joined the Board of Visitors and served in numerous capacities until she died of a heart attack in 1983. Cockrell credits MD Anderson with extending her life by 20 years. In 1980, his wife, Janet, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her successful treatment at MD Anderson further reinforced his commitment to the institution’s mission. Today Janet is cancer-free.
“To be associated with the finest cancer institution in the world on an ongoing basis, to watch it and get to know the people there who are ‘Making Cancer History®’, has been a wonderful experience for this family,” says Cockrell. “It’s a privilege to have had the opportunity.”
Planned Gift Boosts Campaign to Transform Cancer Care
During his 71 years, Jack Laughery embraced life in all its many facets. A family man, food industry entrepreneur, community activist and political fundraiser, he loved horses, Harley Davidsons, and the homes he created with his wife, Helen, in Rocky Mount, N.C., and Jackson Hole, Wyo.
A lung cancer diagnosis in December 2002 failed to alter his positive outlook. Houston simply became another home away from home for the couple. Visits to MD Anderson provided opportunity to cultivate new friendships and interests as they explored dining, cultural and sports offerings in the city and surrounding areas. Their experiences at MD Anderson also reinforced the couple’s longtime philosophy of giving. As Jack underwent treatment, he and Helen vowed to give back to the institution that prolonged his life by more than three years.
“During that time we discussed our desire to contribute a gift to MD Anderson,” says Helen. “We had such a positive experience. We were struck with the ‘warm fuzzies’ at MD Anderson. It’s astounding that this world-renowned center for cancer care and research can make you feel like you’re at home, with everybody cheering for you.”
When Jack died in August 2006, his family, through The Laughery Foundation, pledged $1 million in five phases over 10 years to support various research programs specific to lung cancer at MD Anderson.
“Jack didn’t live long enough to execute our decision to support MD Anderson, though he did have input into how the money would be designated and the direction we’d be heading with our commitment. The children and I made sure we followed through,” says Helen, who joined MD Anderson’s Board of Visitors (BOV) in 2008. “He would be pleased. In fact, he would have expected no less of us.”
Helen says she enjoys returning to Houston for BOV meetings and “for fun.” She scheduled several days in February, for example, to attend the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo, a favorite activity she and Jack shared during their 39 years of marriage.
Helen says her husband’s lung cancer opened her eyes to the crucial need for private support of innovative research to find new and better treatments. To that end she recently extended her own commitment to Making Cancer History®: The Campaign to Transform Cancer Care with a $500,000 planned gift.
“It’s an outright gift, executed in my will,” says Helen, who is in the process of determining the specific type of research the money will support. “It’s not earmarked yet. I would love to think that some of the research needs that are so urgent now would be a moot point by the time I’m gone. I’m trying to design it so it’s still relevant years from now.”
Blue Bell Creameries Offers a Scoop of Hope for Cancer Patients, Survivors
Polo mallets and ice cream scoops may not seem to have much in common. But the two have gone hand in hand during the first weekend in May for more than 20 years in the West Texas town of Albany. Polo on the Prairie, a U.S. Polo Association-sanctioned tournament benefiting MD Anderson, and Blue Bell Creameries have been partners ever since MD Anderson Board of Visitors members Mary Anne McCloud and Henry Musselman, her son-in-law, created the multigenerational event, complete with barbecue, dancing to live entertainment, fireworks and a military flyover, to support MD Anderson’s mission of Making Cancer History®.
This year, the little creamery in Brenham continued its longtime support by making a $10,000 contribution to the May 1 Polo on the Prairie, held on a pasture-turned-polo field on the Musselman Brothers’ Lazy 3 Ranch. In addition, Blue Bell has pledged $150,000 to support the Anderson Network. A program of the Department of Volunteer Services, the Anderson Network is a unique cancer support group of more than 1,500 current and former patients and caregivers. “Blue Bell Creameries is proud to honor the McClouds and the Musselmans with these gifts to support Polo on the Prairie and the important programs MD Anderson makes available to its patients and their families,” says Paul Kruse, Blue Bell CEO and president.
“The Anderson Network conference is testament to the progress institutions like MD Anderson have made toward successfully treating cancer,” says Kruse. “Blue Bell is honored to support the many cancer survivors and their families who will attend this conference to celebrate life beyond cancer.”
Polo on the Prairie is the sponsor of the 2010 Anderson Network Cancer Survivorship Conference, Sept. 24-25 at the Omni Westside, with David Servan-Schreiber, M.D., Ph.D., as keynote speaker. This year’s attendees have a special treat in store, ice cream “Hope Floats” courtesy of Blue Bell.
Apache Support Goes 'Behind the Screens' to Manage Data
In 2005, Apache Corporation contributed $500,000 to MD Anderson, inspired by the experiences of one of its employees, a scientist who overcame lymphoma through treatment at MD Anderson. Apache Chair and CEO G. Steven Farris directed the donation to support the new Center for Advanced Biomedical Imaging Research at the Red and Charline McCombs Institute for the Early Detection and Treatment of Cancer. When completed, facilities for CABIR would support computer modeling and imaging algorithms, not unlike the seismic imaging Lau and colleagues at the energy company use to find oil and gas, to detect cancer activity at the molecular level and to personalize treatment by determining tumors’ responses within days, not weeks.
Fast-forward five years: MD Anderson researchers and clinicians are moving into CABIR’s recently completed 315,000-square-foot South Campus facility, and Apache is renewing its commitment to MD Anderson with a $1 million contribution to Making Cancer History®: The Campaign to Transform Cancer Care. Apache’s donation will support a complex data management system necessary for daily clinical and research operations at CABIR and at MD Anderson’s Brain Tumor Center. The contribution also supports the Duncan Family Institute for Cancer Prevention and Risk Assessment.
Farris, a member of MD Anderson’s Board of Visitors and its Campaign to Transform Cancer Care Executive Committee, says he and fellow executives at Apache saw the philanthropic needs in data management during a visit with Juri Gelovani, M.D., Ph.D., chair of MD Anderson’s Department of Experimental Diagnostic Imaging and director of CABIR, and Raymond Sawaya, M.D., chair of MD Anderson’s Department of Neurosurgery.
The Apache visitors were impressed from more than a philanthropic perspective. Inspired by Gelovani’s presentation, one of the vice presidents decided to quit smoking then and there.
Employee health and wellness is part of Apache’s corporate culture, says Farris, as is philanthropy. The $1 million contribution to MD Anderson is “classic Apache,” he says.
“When it comes to corporate giving, we’re more likely to pick a program that represents the area of highest need, not necessarily the highest profile,” says Farris.
Apache recently held a luncheon for its employees to announce the gift. “Cancer is something that touches us all,” says Farris, whose father died of lung cancer several years ago. “I want our employees to see the cutting-edge work this gift will support and to understand the importance of taking care of themselves in hopes of preventing cancer by eating right, exercising and making other lifestyle choices.”