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World's Best: Event Celebrates 'The Willerson Years'
With the appropriate theme of "World's Best," the guest list for the event to honor James T. Willerson, M.D., read like a who's who of dignitaries, community leaders and local legends.
In the ballroom of the River Oaks Country Club, medical giants Denton A. Cooley, M.D., and Michael E. DeBakey, M.D., were two of the many accomplished health care professionals at an event June 11 to celebrate the past, present and future of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and specifically, the leadership of outgoing President Willerson. DeBakey passed away just one month later.
More than 450 guests were on hand to honor Dr. Willerson, president-elect of the Texas Heart Institute.
Beth Robertson, life member of the UT Health Science Center at Houston Development Board and long-time friend of Dr. Willerson, listed a few of the achievements made during the "Willerson Years." During his seven years (2001-2008) at the health science center, endowments grew from 207 to 361, providing 59 new scholarships, and 55 faculty endowments, including 31 professorships and 24 chairs.
Additionally, more than $700 million of additional funds has been secured for new educational and research programs, buildings, and recruitment of outstanding scientists from philanthropy, the Texas Legislature, The University of Texas System Board of Regents, and other sources from 2001 to 2008.
Throughout the ceremony, speakers shared memories and milestones from Dr. Willerson's tenure as president. The evening's emcee was Randa Safady, Ph.D., vice chancellor for external relations at UT System, and presenters included DeBakey, Cooley, UT Health Science Center at Houston Development Board President David M. Grimes, Development Board President-elect Eugene H. Vaughn, Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Houston Mayor Bill White, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett, Rodney H. Margolis, Kevin Dillon, Lex Frieden, Dong Kim, M.D., of the UT Medical School at Houston and Memorial Hermann, dental researcher Charles Streckfus, D.D.S., of the UT Dental Branch at Houston, and Patricia Starck, dean of the UT Health Science Center at Houston School of Nursing.
The lively celebration included a video message by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, much laughter, standing ovations and announcements about the university's milestones in clinical care, research, education and philanthropy. Several Texas legislators who have been supportive of the health science center throughout Dr. Willerson's tenure also were in attendance.
Larry Kaiser, M.D., incoming president of the UT Health Science Center as of Aug. 1, and Kenneth Shine, M.D., interim chancellor of the UT System, also were in attendance, as were leaders from the university's primary teaching hospitals, Juanita Romans of Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center, David Lopez of the Harris County Hospital District and Craig Cordola of Children's Memorial Hermann Hospital.
Dr. Willerson President-Elect of International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences
James. T. Willerson, M.D., president of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and president-elect of the Texas Heart Institute, was elected President-Elect of the International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences, of which he is a fellow, effective July 1. He was elected based on worldwide voting of Fellows of the Academy. He will become President of the Academy July 1, 2011.
Dr. Willerson, who also is the Edward R. Randall III Professor of Internal Medicine and the Alkek-Williams Distinguished Professor at the UT Health Science Center, will assume the presidency of Texas Heart Institute August 1.
The International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences was founded in 1996 and is headquartered in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Established by renowned cardiovascular scientists, surgeons and cardiologists, the Academy provides the organizational structure for the worldwide sharing of research and education information in the field of heart health.
President Willerson's mentors, Drs. Cooley and DeBakey, reminisced about their long-time friendship with Dr. Willerson. "There is no doubt about it, he is driven to excel. No matter what he does, he excels at it," said Dr. DeBakey as he spoke of their friendship. DeBakey died of natural causes on July 11.
"I'd like to propose the first toast to Dr. Willerson, for all of his wonderful accomplishments," said Dr. Cooley. "We're all here to salute you for your great contribution to our community and to the medical center."
Long-time development board member and friend of Dr. Willerson, Rodney Margolis expressed his gratitude to President Willerson for his leadership and contributions to the health science center. Margolis welcomed Scott Caven, chairman of The University of Texas Board of Regents, to the stage for a special surprise announcement.
"In order to recognize the remarkable leadership of Dr. James T. Willerson in his role as President of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, The University of Texas Board of Regents has voted to name the atrium of the Fayez S. Sarofim Building, home of The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases, the James T. Willerson, M.D. Discovery Hall."
To conclude the evening, Dr. Willerson took the stage with his wife, Nancy, to thank his friends and colleagues for their words of appreciation.
"I am the luckiest man alive, so fortunate to be given the opportunity to help The University of Texas here in Houston," exclaimed Dr. Willerson. "I am so fortunate to be able to help people, to train others and build in a city where there's so much compassion, generosity, love, caring and giving. There's not another city in the world like Houston, Texas.
"This institution is poised for greatness," Dr. Willerson continued. "I'll never forget this night. I will be a part of you for the rest of my life. Thank you."
Willerson, ever the gentleman, greeted his guests on their way into the ballroom and afterward wished everyone well until the last of his friends and colleagues, the world's best, had left the country club.
By Kelly Neely and Meredith Raine, Institutional Advancement