Editor’s note: This story was originally published as the cover story in the Spring 2021 Chronicle of Giving.
In 2015, Ken Wright made a $16 million gift to the MCV Foundation to support clinical and translational research on the MCV Campus and across the entire university. In recognition of this gift, VCU created the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research.
To help him explain his gift’s impact to friends and colleagues, Mr. Wright kept laminated cards in his suit pocket. Each card offered a succinct explanation of the center’s mission to transform important basic science research into effective lifesaving treatments for patients at VCU Health and at hospitals around the world. In other words, the center was translating research “from bench to bedside.”
He would beam with pride at each opportunity to share the information, because for him, it was not about the gift, but rather about the important research, innovation, discovery and care that helped patients.
Mr. Wright passed away in August 2019, but his passion for the transformational work being done across VCU showed that it lives on this past December when the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Foundation announced a $24 million gift for VCU and VCU Health.
“I know Mr. Wright would be very pleased about this gift,” said Audrey Pape, president of the Wright Foundation. “It supports three areas that were very important to him — innovative research at the Wright Center, patient care in the new Adult Outpatient Pavilion and scholarships at the College of Engineering.”
The new gift provides $16 million for the Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research.
“We’re humbled by and grateful for the generosity that the Wrights and their foundation have shown our center,” said F. Gerard Moeller, M.D., director of the Wright Center. “This past year has shown us how important clinical research is for the health of our community. And this gift will help the Wright Center promote important collaborative, community engaged research.”
The Wright Center gift will fund priorities like strategic faculty recruitment and retention, including hiring diverse junior faculty and supporting them in their research.
The estate gift provides an additional $4 million to support the VCU Health Adult Outpatient Pavilion, which is expected to be completed at the end of 2021 and will offer an array of outpatient clinics. The contribution will name a public entryway and gallery for patients arriving to receive care at Massey Cancer Center.
“The Adult Outpatient Pavilion is being constructed with patient experience as a top priority,” said Arthur Kellermann, professor and senior vice president for VCU health sciences and CEO of VCU Health System. “Based on all that I’ve heard about the charm and warmth Mr. Wright extended to everyone, it is only fitting that the space named for him and his wife be the point through which we welcome neighbors and families from across the region. This 17-story facility, which includes a dedicated tower for outpatient oncology care, will change the way we treat patients. Mr. Wright’s generosity to our institution, of which this gift is the latest example, will make an impact on every patient we touch for decades to come.”
The remaining $4 million of the Wright Foundation’s $24 million gift will support the Wright Engineering Access Scholarship Program to provide need- and merit-based awards to students in the College of Engineering, which was one of the first VCU entities to benefit from the Wrights’ philanthropy.
A Legacy of Leadership
When he retired in 1999 from a business he built, Mr. Wright focused much of his time and energy on helping others through his philanthropy. The Wrights’ relationship with VCU began in 1999 when they donated the building that had been Mr. Wright’s business headquarters to the VCU College of Engineering Foundation. That building later became home to the VCU Brandcenter. Mr. Wright joined the College of Engineering Foundation Board and would make gifts totaling more than $11 million to support students and facilities. The microelectronics lab bears the Wrights’ names. The Wrights also gave the initial $1 million gift to create the Eugene P. Trani Scholars Program to provide support to undergraduate students.
On the MCV Campus, the Wrights were stalwart supporters of Massey Cancer Center, the Pauley Heart Center, the Division of Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine, and other clinical programs. Dianne, who preceded her husband in death in 2013, was among Massey Cancer Center’s greatest ambassadors and was a member of its advisory board.
The first gift to what would become the Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research came in 2015. That contribution established six C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Distinguished Chairs in Clinical and Translational Research and the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Physician-Scientist Scholars program. Thanks in large part to the support that Ken and Dianne provided, the Wright Center became the first federally funded center of its kind in Virginia and today is renowned nationally for turning groundbreaking science into lifesaving care.
“Not only have the Wright gifts directly funded research that improves outcomes for patients, but they’ve helped the center leverage the support of the National Institutes of Health, who renewed our Clinical and Translational Science Award in 2018,” Dr. Moeller said. “The Wrights’ dedication to our work is a driving force for much of what we’ve accomplished.”
With the latest gift, the Wrights’ contributions to VCU total more than $70 million and place them among the top donors in the university’s history. The legacy that will live on, however, is not the number, but rather the direct impact in advancing research, developing students and improving the community’s health.
“Like VCU itself, Ken Wright was dedicated to the grand questions and solving the problems that have perplexed humanity for years. He always believed in what we did best, and these final gifts through his foundation represent his intentions for continued support of One VCU in order to advance research, education and clinical care,” said Michael Rao, Ph.D., president of VCU and VCU Health.
“I admire Ken as one of the kindest, most generous and strategic donors I have ever known in my service to institutions committed to these critical missions that shape society and serve the public — particularly those most in need. His investment in the Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research and his support to the College of Engineering and the Adult Outpatient Pavilion is transformational, saving and making lives better. VCU remains eternally grateful to the Wrights and to their beloved team, all of whom do so much to fulfill the Wrights’ wishes,” Dr. Rao said.
To learn more about how you can support the Wright Center or the Adult Outpatient Pavilion, please contact Brian Thomas, MCV Foundation’s vice president and chief development officer.