After giving $10 million last year to help fund a building that bears his name, the late Dr. J. Harold Harrison and his family topped that by giving $66 million, what is believed to be the largest gift ever to a public university in Georgia, to fund scholarships and faculty at his beloved Medical College of Georgia.
The Medical College of Georgia Foundation board voted unanimously Saturday to create the J. Harold Harrison, M.D. Fellows Fund to facilitate the gift from his estate and his private foundation. Harrison, a longtime member of the foundation who led it in 1974 and 1979, died June 2.
“We shall miss Harold and have already missed him,” said Dr. Cecil F. Whitaker Jr. of Columbus. “We shall miss his intelligence, his wit, his laughter that used to fill this room up. But we won’t miss his generosity.”
The endowment can only be used to fund scholarships for students at MCG, which is part of Georgia Regents University, and for endowed chairs for faculty at MCG in Augusta.
That is what Harrison really wanted. In 2004, when he was donating $2 million to endow a chair in vascular surgery at MCG, he said he wanted to improve the school and its research for future students.
“They give an opportunity for folks like me from Kite, Ga., to get an education,” he said then. “Anything I can do to help that for the future gives a country boy a chance to go to school. If we can improve the school, we can give him a better chance at getting a quality education that will compete with anybody in the country.”
“And he never forgot that,” said foundation CEO James B. Osborne Sr. “He wanted any family in the state of Georgia to be able to send their children here to go to school and be a doctor. And he wouldn’t have had that opportunity if it had not been for the Medical College of Georgia.”
Harrison was only 18 when he entered MCG and 22 when he graduated in 1948. He went on to be a pioneering vascular surgeon at St. Joseph Hospital in Atlanta, where he established the country’s first vascular training program.
He always returned to his cattle ranch and to his roots, Osborne said. When he endowed the chair in vascular surgery, he said he was a little reluctant to get the publicity and predicted he would “catch a little flak” from his fellow ranchers.
Now he has made the biggest splash ever at a Georgia university, Osborne said.
“I believe it is the largest gift in the history of a public university in the state of Georgia,” he said. “We’ve researched that, and we can’t find any larger gift.”
It is a “transformative gift,” GRU President Ricardo Azziz said.
Harrison “has invested in the future of this medical school. He has invested in our students, in our faculty and by doing so has transformed not just our university, not just our medical school but truly Georgia and the nation,” he said.
Azziz thanked Harrison and his family and also the foundation board.
Osborne said that while he has not calculated exactly what the $66 million endowment will fund, it should provide $2 million to $3 million a year for scholarships.
“I think it is a game changer for the Medical College of Georgia,” he said. “This will enable the school to recruit the best and brightest of medical students” and keep bright students in Georgia.
The first $10 million gift created the J. Harold Harrison, M.D. Education Commons Building, which is being built at MCG. Harrison had to be talked into that one but would be pleased it is there for future students, many of whom will be there because of him, Osborne said.
“In his building, with his scholarship, that’s a great circle,” he said.