The Chronicle of Philanthropy listed Harrison and his family as 32nd on its list of the top 50 most generous donors last year. They were the only donors listed for Georgia. Harrison’s gift to the foundation is the largest ever given to a public university in Georgia, said Dr. James Osborne, the president and CEO of the foundation.
“To be in a national publication like that is very nice,” he said.
“It sets this gift apart from anything else that has ever happened before at the medical school,” said MCG Dean Peter Buckley.
Actually, if the $10 million Harrison donated to MCG at Georgia Regents University toward the Education Commons Building that bears his name was added to his total, he would rank 26th on the list, right behind former Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt. The list includes the founders of Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Nike and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Harrison, who never forgot his roots in Kite, Ga., would probably be amused that he is on a list with them, Osborne said.
“He liked to go back to his roots in farming,” Osborne said. “He’d probably say, ‘That’s a pretty fancy crowd to be with.’ ”
In fact, when Harrison was interviewed by The Augusta Chronicle in 2004 about a $2 million donation to endow a chair in vascular surgery, he seemed a little wary of the attention and how it might play with his fellow cattle ranchers.
“I’m going catch a little flak,” he joked then.
Harrison was a 1948 graduate of MCG and a pioneering vascular surgeon at St. Joseph Hospital and never forgot what the school had done for him, which is why his donation can only be used to fund scholarships to the medical school and endowed chairs for its faculty.
The first six Harrison Scholars will be awarded this fall and the school is still looking to utilize the first $2
million Harrison Distinguished University Chair. The school is still considering how it might be used with one of the current recruits, but because it is the first it is also considering how it and other chairs might be awarded in the future, Buckley said.
“The chair is a great opportunity and is important in itself but it’s positioning is best considered in the context of all of the other chairs that are likely to emanate,” he said. The school has 43 endowed chairs, a large number for a school its size, but they are not evenly distributed and some departments, such as Emergency Medicine, have none, Buckley said.
“We’re looking at this current chair in terms of ongoing recruitment but once we do that, before doing any other chairs, we need to step back and take a look at the whole portfolio,” he said.
The Harrison scholarships have also caused the school to go back and look at how it is awarding other scholarships, such as combining some into a single larger scholarship that will be more attractive to potential medical students, Buckley said.
In this way, like many of the other gifts on that top 50 list, this gift was truly “transformative,” he said.
“I was really proud that we have appeared in this,” Buckley said. “This is a worldwide philanthropy, all causes listing. We’re in great company.”
Many of the others on the list are billionaires, but Harrison was of more moderate means, so it is more meaningful, Osborne said.
“This was by far the majority of his estate and his wealth,” he said, and was fully supported by his family. “It certainly is a magnificent gift that will be here permanently, in perpetuity and it will provide scholarships to many generations of doctors. We’re very proud of it but especially proud of the fact that it came from a great friend, Dr. Harrison.”