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Annual brunch gives donors, students a chance to celebrate $1.8 million in scholarships

Ben Lindsey

The Class of 2015’s Ben Lindsey was chosen to speak on behalf of his fellow students at the MCV Foundation’s annual scholarship brunch. He told the assembled donors, “Your confidence in us is an incredibly inspiring gift and we hope to one day be in your shoes, giving back to MCV.” See more photos from the MCV Foundation’s Scholarship Brunch. Photo credit: Chris Ijams, CSI Studios, LLC.

Students, alumni, faculty and friends from the MCV Campus recently gathered at the MCV Foundation Scholarship Brunch to celebrate the outstanding financial support given to students across the campus each year.

The event provides an opportunity for students and donors to get to know each other, as scholarship recipients thank donors for their generosity and donors have the pleasure of hearing what a difference their gifts have made. This year’s brunch included 127 donors and 142 students from across the MCV Campus, all of whom had a connection to the over $1.8 million paid out in scholarships and awards this year.

This past year’s numbers are impressive: 325 endowed scholarships, 431 students who receive financial aid and three dozen new scholarships established. But the brunch offers a chance to look beyond the numbers to the real reason for the donors’ generosity: the students. This year’s event featured a speech by fourth-year medical student Ben Lindsey, who holds the Kinloch Nelson Scholarship.

Ben told the audience that his scholarship gave him a sense of tradition, power and confidence that he will continue to carry even after he leaves the MCV Campus. His scholarship is named after Kinloch Nelson, M.D., the beloved Dean of Medicine who is credited with starting the school’s Department of Family Practice and for whom the Nelson Clinic is named.

Ben described looking around the campus and seeing signs of Dr. Nelson’s legacy everywhere, including within himself.

Kinloch Nelson, M’98 and his wife Melissa Nelson, M’98

Kinloch Nelson, M’98, and his wife Melissa Nelson, M’98, attended the scholarship brunch to meet the Class of 2015’s Ben Lindsey who holds a scholarship that memorializes the former Dean of Medicine Kinloch Nelson, M.D. The Class of 1998’s Nelson is a descendant of Dean Nelson. See more photos from the MCV Foundation’s Scholarship Brunch. Photo credit: Chris Ijams, CSI Studios, LLC.

“It is both incredibly humbling and motivating to realize that I maintain the support of this legacy through the Kinloch Nelson scholarship,” he said. “Through legacies like the Nelsons’, the scholarships we receive are far more valuable than their intrinsic monetary worth.”

Ben also took the opportunity to talk about the strength of the MCV Campus’ alumni network. Before coming to the School of Medicine, Ben worked as a medical scribe in Charlottesville, Va. He noted that “Many of the residents with whom I worked during that job had attended medical school at MCV. They tended to be the most competent residents and they raved about the clinical experience they had received while attending MCV for medical school. Thus, it was my interaction with these MCV alumni and my desire for an unparalleled clinical experience that convinced me to aim for MCV.”

The School of Medicine’s alumni have continued to impress him as he looks beyond graduation this spring. Ben just finished interviewing for residency positions, a process that took him to hospitals and academic medical centers across the country. He was happy to find that everywhere he interviewed there were connections to the MCV Campus and alumni were excited to meet him and help out however they could.

These stories about the impact of scholarships and the importance of active alumni are what make the brunch such a success. Students like Ben show donors the real results of their generosity and how scholarships mean much more than financial aid. The brunch is also meaningful for students, as they get to better understand the legacies that the scholarships represent. As Ben said at the close of his speech to the assembled donors, “You have indescribably enhanced our time as students here at MCV. Your confidence in us is an incredibly inspiring gift and we hope to one day be in your shoes, giving back to MCV.

By Jack Carmichael


“An underdog disease finds a champion”

Robert B. Scott, M.D., the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder, Florence Neal Cooper-Smith, Wally R. Smith, M.D., and John E. Nestler, M.D., at the May 2014 reception celebrating the appointment of Smith as the inaugural holder of the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship.

Robert B. Scott, M.D., the Honorable L. Douglas Wilder, Florence Neal Cooper-Smith, Wally R. Smith, M.D., and John E. Nestler, M.D., at the May 2014 reception celebrating the appointment of Smith as the inaugural holder of the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship.

Florence Neal Cooper-Smith (MS’85) became aware of sickle cell disease in 1942, 34 years after the first known case presented itself in the United States.

Her lifelong dedication to the disease began during a routine childhood trip to the family doctor. During her visits, she often waited in the doctor’s office rather than in the waiting room. Once, she found a book to read and stumbled on a few new words: hematology and sickle cell anemia.

“It hit me. Sickle cell was a disease in colored people, that was the terminology back then,” she remembered. “You were born with it, there was no cure and you died early. That stuck with me.

“When I asked my doctor about it, he explained that the disease affects the shape of red blood cells and you’re born with the anemia, but he didn’t know much more than that. I kept asking people about it. It never left me.”

Advancements have been made in the study and treatment of the disease in the century since it was first identified, but people of many races are still born with it, still die early from it and no cure exists.

Cooper-Smith hopes all of that will change in her lifetime. It’s hard to doubt her when she emphatically proclaims that she’ll raise a million dollars for research before she dies.

She has $725,000 to go.

Her grass-roots efforts — gaining support from churches, fraternal and civic groups, family and friends, for example — raised enough money to endow last May a professorship in the VCU School of Medicine. Thought to be the first of its kind in the country and named in her honor, the milestone professorship supports aggressive research projects designed to discover lifesaving treatments and perhaps a cure.

Recently, a group of her friends organized the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Sickle Cell Research Committee to increase awareness about the disease and to raise money for research.

Cooper-Smith’s devotion to finding a cure includes years of community-based education and legislative work in Virginia as well as national networking through the National Institutes of Health and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 1969, she led a Richmond-area survey to gauge awareness of the disease. Only 3 in 10 people had heard of it. Two decades later, she pushed a bill through the Virginia legislature mandating statewide newborn screening for the disease.

“We call Florence the ‘mother of sickle cell in Virginia,’ and it’s definitely a term of endearment,” said Wally R. Smith, M.D., professor and vice chair for research in the VCU Division of General Internal Medicine at the School of Medicine and inaugural holder of the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship.

Trained as a medical technician, Cooper-Smith began her career at the Medical College of Virginia in burn research alongside E.I. Evans, M.D., in the early 1950s. Later, she met hematology professor Robert B. Scott, M.D., and the two collaborated to create the Virginia Sickle Cell Anemia Awareness Program, now housed at the Virginia Department of Health.

Even with a national reputation for her efforts, Cooper-Smith remains humble and hopeful.

“It overwhelmed me to hear that the professorship was going to carry my name,” she said. “I didn’t do anything other than move something along. I just want to keep the research going. We’ve got to find better treatment, management and care for the 100,000 people affected in the U.S.”

“In a way, we’re continuing Florence’s original community work through one of our current projects,” Smith said. “We find and bring into care patients with sickle cell disease who have not been seeking care. It’s as if we hand these patients a life raft.”

The life raft is hydroxyurea, an underutilized, under-prescribed anti-sickling medication approved for use in the late 1990s.

When explaining why the drug isn’t more widely used, Smith said, “It’s the curse of sickle cell. There are not enough doctors taking care of adults with the disease. Patients don’t trust the medical establishment and they feel rejected.”

It’s an uphill climb, but thanks to the funding the Cooper-Smith Professorship provides, he said, he and his VCU colleagues can continue that climb.

To learn more about the Florence Neal Cooper-Smith Professorship, contact Brian Thomas, interim president of the MCV Foundation, at 804-828-0067 or bsthomas@vcu.edu.

This article by Nan Johnson first appeared in the fall 2014 issue of Impact, the quarterly publication of VCU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations.


Family celebrates a 101st birthday with gift

Eleanor Johnson Tabb and her sister Clelia

Eleanor Johnson Tabb (right) and other family members established the Clelia M. Johnson Endowed Scholarship in the School of Medicine as a display of gratitude to her sister, Clelia (left), who sent her to business school.

Clelia Johnson, now 101, remembers clearly coming to work at the Medical College of Virginia soon after high school.

She had “the audacity,” she said, to ask the president of the college at the time, William Sanger, Ph.D., to speak at her medical secretary graduation. That contact led to her first job and then to a more than 60-year career working in medical pathology.

She remembers the very first day of work, being assigned to assist with an autopsy in the dirt-floored morgue of the Egyptian Building. She continued working for Paul Kimmelstiel, M.D., for most of her career.

In the early days, Johnson was willing to work for no salary at all, but soon she was earning $75 a month. She gave her mother and her church each $25. With the remaining $25, she saved enough to install electricity in the Goochland County, Virginia, home where she was born (and still lives), as well as send her sister, Eleanor Johnson Tabb, to Smithdeal Massey Business College.

Over time, Johnson built a reputation in the pathology lab, where she deftly prepared tissue samples for microscopic inspection. She became so good at it that she trained others in the procedure. She said she would enjoy “seeing the technology of how it’s done now” and hopes to take a tour of the laboratory soon.

Johnson firmly believes that MCV changed her life, and she wants to help others pursue their medical careers. So when her family searched for a creative and meaningful way to mark her 101st birthday recently, they thought of the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine.

With a family commitment of $50,000, including an inaugural gift of $10,000 from Tabb, her loved ones established the Clelia M. Johnson Endowed Scholarship. Once the fund hits its $50,000 goal, an annual award will be made to a deserving VCU medical student to reduce debt burden.

“Clelia sacrificed a lot for me, and I wanted to do something to honor her now,” Tabb said.

Through their gift, the family is participating in the School of Medicine’s 1838 Campaign, which aims to increase the number and size of scholarships to give the school a competitive edge in recruiting top students, rewarding student excellence and reducing the burden of debt that has become an inescapable part of choosing a career in medicine.

Clelia Johnson’s name will be displayed on the donor wall in the school’s McGlothlin Medical Education Center.

Clelia Johnson as she glides over the hills and valleys of Virginia.

See video of Clelia Johnson as she glides over the hills and valleys of Virginia.

“Even at 101, Clelia still has the same zest for adventure she has always had,” says her cousin, Ben Johnson, an avid glider pilot who introduced her to his passion. She has traveled the world and now has three glider flights under her belt since she turned 95.

She describes it this way: “It’s just like roaming around in heaven!”

To learn more about the 1838 Campaign in the School of Medicine, contact Tom Holland, associate dean for development, at 804-828-4800 or tehollan@vcu.edu.

This article by Nan Johnson first appeared in the fall 2014 issue of Impact, the quarterly publication of VCU’s Office of Development and Alumni Relations.


Ray family reconnects with medical school

Ed Ray, M.D.

Ed Ray, M.D., founding chair of the Division of Pulmonary Disease

When Alpha A. “Berry” Fowler, M.D., arrived on the MCV Campus in the mid-70s, Ed Ray, M.D., was just stepping down from his more than 20-year tenure as the founding chair of the Division of Pulmonary Disease. Ray, a specialist in tuberculosis, stayed on faculty and became a mentor to the younger Fowler, who had just earned his medical degree from the Medical College of Georgia and had come up to Richmond for internal medicine residency training.

Today, Fowler sits in the Pulmonary Disease Division’s chairman seat that Ray once held. “He was the first pulmonologist here and was a legend,” says Fowler. “He was an inspiration and one of the reasons I chose pulmonary medicine as a specialty.”

Ray was one of MCV’s first bronchoscopists. He was known across Virginia for his use of the Jackson rigid bronchoscope to examine patients’ airways for foreign objects, bleeding or inflammation. Over the years, Ray assembled an unusual collection of objects retrieved from patients’ airways, including a peach pit and a compass, coins from the late 1940s, buttons and even a belt buckle.

The use of the rigid bronchoscope which Ray pioneered at MCV fell out of favor for the most part in the 1960s when the flexible fiberoptic bronchoscope was introduced into clinical medicine.

“What is old is new again,” says Fowler. “Dr. Ed Ray was one of the first physicians in Virginia to use the rigid endoscope. However, today, decades later, the rigid bronchoscope is being used once again. Pulmonologists at MCV employ rigid bronchoscopy, performing at least two or three procedures each week.” Importantly, if Ray were practicing today, he’d be referred to as an interventional pulmonologist, based upon the tools he used and the techniques he pioneered at MCV.

Class of 1976's Gaylord Ray and Wes Shepherd, M.D., H'03

During a tour of the MCV Campus, the Class of 1976’s Gaylord Ray and Wes Shepherd, M.D., H’03, director of interventional pulmonology, look through the collection of objects Ray’s father had retrieved from patients’ airways during his tenure as the founding chair of the Division of Pulmonary Disease.

Ray’s contributions were recently remembered when his son, Gaylord Ray, of the School of Medicine’s Class of 1976, returned to the MCV Campus. He met with Fowler and other Pulmonary Division faculty when he toured the division facilities, the operating room, the Medical Respiratory Intensive Care Unit and the simulation center where medical students and pulmonary trainees gain procedural experience. He says he was impressed with what he saw of the strides the division has made under Fowler’s direction. “The department is in good hands, and my father would be quite proud to see the training, but, in particular, the quality of the division.”

He learned from the director of interventional pulmonology, Ray “Wes” Shepherd, M.D., H’03, that the division’s interventional pulmonology program marked a milestone when it accepted its first fellow in July 2011. There are only 12 interventional pulmonology fellowship programs in the United States, each taking just one fellow per year. And, just this past year, the Interventional Pulmonology Service reached another milestone, performing over 1,000 interventional procedures.

Over lunch, Gaylord Ray shared stories about his father with division faculty members and with his son Chris, who was also on hand. Chris followed in his family’s footsteps onto the MCV Campus and is now president of the medical school’s Class of 2015. “It was important to me to have my son Chris attend the lunch. I see many of my father’s qualities coming out in him, particularly the compassion and thoughtfulness.”

Ed Ray, M.D.

Gaylord W. Ray, M’76, H’79, with his son Christopher C. Ray, president of the medical school’s Class of 2015. They are holding the 1897 diploma awarded to Gaylord’s grandfather, A. Chambers Ray, by the University College of Medicine, a predecessor to MCV. Gaylord Ray’s late father, Ed Ray, is also connected to the medical school: he completed his housestaff training in 1944 and went on to be named the founding chair of the Division of Pulmonary Disease.

Now retired from his practice as an emergency medicine physician, Gaylord Ray has chosen to honor his father’s contributions by establishing an endowed fund that will benefit the Interventional Pulmonology Service. Fowler hopes former trainees of Ed Ray may increase the fund through their own gifts honoring the influence he had on their careers.

“The Interventional Pulmonology Service greatly appreciates Dr. Ray’s desire to honor the legacy of his father,” said Shepherd. “I hope that the attributes that Dr. Ray admired in his father live on today in our interventional pulmonology program.”

Shepherd also appreciated hearing Ray’s stories from the 1950s and 60s. “I have already told several of my rigid bronchoscopy partners about Dr. Gaylord Ray’s childhood experience assisting our first pulmonary chair!”


Community-minded medical student backed by hometown foundation

He could hardly believe it when he got the news. When the call came letting Akeem George know that he was chosen to receive the L.D. Britt Scholarship, George was thrilled and filled with pride.

Akeem George

First-year student Akeem George at the medical school’s White Coat Ceremony

“My ears were ringing over the phone,” said George, a Virginia Beach native and first-year School of Medicine student. “Dr. Britt actually called me to tell me I was chosen. I called my family right after, because they have sacrificed so much to get me here.”

George was selected as the Class of 2016’s recipient of the Britt award, a $10,000 scholarship given to a minority student from Hampton Roads that is renewable for each of the four years of medical school. Many of the past Britt Scholars have been students at Eastern Virginia Medical School, and George is the first student from the MCV Campus to be chosen by the scholarship committee.

Britt told George that he was selected because of his academic success and remarkable commitment to community service. As an undergraduate student at VCU, George was a leader in his service fraternity. He also volunteered at Richmond’s Fan Free Clinic and in his hometown at the Beach Health Clinic. Despite juggling the heavy course load of a first-year medical student, George now spends hours each week mentoring a 12-year-old boy in the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond.

The Britt scholarship was particularly meaningful to George because of his respect for L.D. Britt, M.D., the scholarship’s namesake, and the award’s connection to his hometown.

“I am from the Hampton Roads community, and Dr. Britt is a pillar in our community. He is a role model for young men like me,” George said. “I thought it was cool that he is a nationally renowned surgeon and could practice anywhere, but he chose to come back to Hampton Roads and serve the community that supported him.”

George was honored by the scholarship, as well, because he said he views it as Hampton Roads’ investment in his future. It’s an investment he doesn’t take lightly. Inspired by Britt’s example and motivated by his desire to serve, George plans to return to Virginia Beach to practice medicine. He hopes to be a surgeon who makes a difference for generations to come.

“The scholarship will greatly ease the trouble and distraction of growing debt so that I can focus on my studies, my family and my community. It is a generous gift, and I am reminded that it is an investment in my future. I know that it is my role in the future to give back to my community as a physician.”


Classmates honor 2005 alumna with a scholarship in her name

When Rebecca Clary Harris’ classmates remember her, they think of her positive attitude and her ever-present smile.

Rebecca Clary Harris, M.D.

Rebecca Clary Harris, M.D., in her cap and gown at the 2005 graduation ceremony.

“She made the most out of every moment, brought out the good in everything and always found a reason to be happy and smile,” said Katrina Kandra McLellan, M’05. “Ever since I met her, I’ve wanted to be more like her. I think she taught us all how to be better people.”

Becca — as she was known to her friends — had been the third generation of her family to attend the medical school, and was beloved by her classmates and faculty. In 2007, just two years after their graduation from medical school, Becca’s classmates were shocked to learn that she had been killed in an accident. Soon after, her classmates began to make gifts in her memory, creating what they see as a living memorial to her remarkable character as well as to her service and devotion to the field of medicine, particularly melanoma research.

Make a gift

You can help the scholarship to grow over time by making a gift in Becca’s memory.

They recently hit the $10,000 mark and so, for the first time, the fund will be used this fall to award a scholarship to an altruistic student who embodies the qualities of kindness, compassion, unguarded optimism and unquestionable character that made Becca who she was. Preference will be given to someone who has completed post-baccalaureate graduate training in physiology or who intends to pursue melanoma research.

Becca’s classmates had made their gifts to the fund quietly, unbeknownst even to her family. Once the scholarship was ready to be awarded, they asked the family to come together so they could share what had been accomplished in Becca’s memory. Amidst the tears and memories, Becca’s legacy lived on.

At the gathering, her classmates presented her family with a memory book, filled with photos and reminiscences of Becca. For the album, Byrd Davenport, M’05, wrote “As her friends and classmates we are in a position to try to embody, so far as we can, the good things Becca did, and the way she lived. She really was inspiring. And will remain so.”

Becca's family and classmates

In April 2012, Becca’s friends surprised her family with the news that they had created a scholarship in her name. Pictured, from left to right: Becca’s sister Margaret Clary, her mother Kay Clary, classmate Nicole Kelleher-Linkonis, Becca’s husband Justin Harris, classmates Meera Pahuja Mate and Katrina Kandra McLellan, Becca’s sister Kathryn Clary Angus, her father Dr. Richard Clary, M’74, classmates Libby Sherwin, Janae Johnson Sureja and Katherine Johnson, and Becca’s brother-in-law Jason Angus.