Foundation’s Dowdy Award Honors Ishon for Efforts to Support Parkinson’s Research

For many people, 50 years is a long time to maintain friendships.  

For many people — not John Cabot Ishon.

John Cabot Ishon Photo: Daniel Sangjib Min, MCV Foundation

When Ishon reached out five years ago to his Brother Rats from his Virginia Military Institute class of 1969, seeking donations for a fund being established in honor of one of their own, Charles F. Bryan Jr., Ph.D., the generous outpouring that followed was simply a natural extension of friendships that began decades ago.  

Led largely by Ishon’s efforts, the Dr. Charles F. Bryan Jr. Parkinson’s Research Fund was established in 2019 to honor Dr. Bryan, an MCV Foundation lifetime hororary trustee, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s 20 years ago. Dr. Bryan is a staunch advocate and fundraiser for Parkinson’s research and care, and was instrumental in support of the opening of the VCU Health Parkinson’s and Movement and Disorders Center. 

The initial fund of $25,000 was collected by Ishon in a matter of weeks from nearly 30 Brother Rats.   

Today that fund nears $400,000.  

John was the spark plug of it all — that’s a true friend.

Charles F. Bryan Jr., Ph.D.

For his dedicated fundraising efforts, Ishon was awarded the MCV Foundation’s Dowdy Award at its annual awards event on June 10 at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.  Established in honor of Mickey Dowdy, who served as president of the MCV Foundation from 1993 to 2006, this award recognizes a volunteer who has played a lead role in fundraising for the MCV Campus at VCU Health. 

“John is the focal point of perhaps the best example of the impact of community and doing something that is not only impactful, but is about friendship, collaborations across institutions and really, it’s about our better selves,” said Gordon Smith, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Neurology at the VCU School of Medicine and Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chair in Clinical and Translational Research. “It’s about building relationships and doing so in a way that isn’t part of one’s day job,” he said.  

Charles F. Bryan Jr., Ph.D., and John Cabot Ishon at the MCV Foundation Annual Dinner and Awards Ceremony. Photo: Daniel Sangjib Min, MCV Foundation

Ishon and Dr. Bryan’s friendship began at VMI in 1965. Theirs is a bond that remains steadfast, Dr. Bryan said, regardless of the passage of time. That Ishon was able to secure funding for Dr. Bryan’s fund from their Brother Rats for VCU Health and not VMI is a testament to the values they both learned, that looking out for one’s fellow man is a lifetime commitment.  

“John was the spark plug of it all — that’s a true friend,” Dr. Bryan said. “John — in his calm, cool way — persuaded people to contribute, and it’s refreshing to see these two supposedly competitive institutions of higher learning working together for a common good.” 

He added: “It serves as a model for others to follow.”  

Those who know Ishon as “Dad” aren’t surprised at what he was able to accomplish. Ishon’s daughters, Jane Garnet Brown and Anne Cabot Galeski, both describe a man who has been working behind the scenes to help others for as long as they can remember, from being involved in their schools when they were young to his philanthropic endeavors.  

“Dad is all about relationships,” said Brown, who offered the suggestion to her father about creating a fund to honor Dr. Bryan, their longtime family friend. “He’s constantly in contact with his friends, checking in — that’s just who he is.”  

“Our dad probably sees himself as a facilitator of doing good work,” she said.   

Galeski echoed her sister’s thoughts. 

“For us, the lesson is, keep in touch with people you care about,” she said. “Stay in their lives, stay present.”   

Dr. Smith called the gift “transformational,” explaining that it has allowed recruitment at VCU of prominent faculty and the expansion of programming, which, in part, led to the center being named by the Parkinson’s Foundation as Virginia’s only Center of Excellence.  

“If we just look at the care that’s being provided through multidisciplinary care centers of excellence, and the national prominence, we’ve come a really long way and are solidly on the map as one of the best Parkinson’s centers in the nation,” Dr. Smith said. “But what it’s allowing now are plans for bigger and better in terms of leveraging our clinical programs for research and I’m really excited about community engagement opportunities, which really brings the fund and John’s efforts full circle.”  

“What John did is something that is well above and beyond the duty,” Dr. Smith said. “He showed true dedication as a friend and if that’s not what this award is about, I’m not sure what is.”