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Philanthropy comes from the heart

William Brody

I have been asked on many occasions to name the most significant gift I received as the head of a large research university where philanthropic gifts totaled in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually. Without question, one of the most moving and significant donations came from a ten-year-old boy, Conor Griffin Goetz.

Conor's father, John Griffin, had developed cancer and was treated over a long period of time at the Kimmel Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore. Unfortunately, despite the best available therapy at the time, the tumor spread throughout John's body, and he eventually succumbed to the cancer.

Conor was impressed with the treatment, but heartbroken by its inabiity to save his father's life. He wrote a short note to the Cancer Center: "Use this money to cure cancer." Tucked inside the handwritten note was $55, his entire savings. With these few short lines, he gave voice to all the children, mothers and fathers whose lives have been forever changed by cancer.

One would think that such a small gift, too small even to be a rounding error in the over 20,000 gifts that are made annually to the Kimmel Cancer Center, would go unnoticed. Yet that gift, in relationship to the net worth of the donor, was as meaningful as any seven-or eight-figure donation. It demonstrated a level of passion and commitment by a boy whose maturity far exceeded his chronological age.

The Salk Institute is dedicated to improving the lot of humankind. We do this by understanding the fundamental mechanisms that determine how the cells and genes of plants, microscopic organisms, animals and humans function normally and when perturbed by certain disease states. And cancer is one of those important diseases whose prevention or cure comes from a profound understanding of how tumors are able to hijack cells in order to replicate uncontrollably.

Fifty years of amazing discoveries by Salk scientists—in cancer, genetics, aging, stem cells, neuroscience, plant biology and many other fields—have been enabled by gifts, large and small, from passionate and committed people like Conor. As we enter the next 50 years of Salk science, we will depend even more on our generous supporters—forward-looking people who recognize how science can ultimately contribute to the public good.