The late Peter and Edith O’Donnell

We are deeply saddened by the loss of Peter O’Donnell Jr., who was a remarkable innovator, philanthropist, and visionary. For decades, the generosity of Mr. O’Donnell and his late wife Edith encouraged and built excellence in our medical community, and we know future generations will continue to benefit as the O’Donnell legacy inspires us to continue moving forward in seeking solutions and meeting society’s greatest health care needs.

“It is so difficult to lose a friend like Peter O’Donnell,” said Kathleen M. Gibson, President and CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation. “He did not just support UT Southwestern with his exceptional and generous giving, he supported this mission with a tremendous heart and an abiding vision which helped to shape and guide the Medical Center’s progress for decades. His conviction that great talent attracted even more great talent assured that capabilities were built to deliver the continuous advances we would need in understanding and treatment. Peter is a hero for so many reasons; one of the most important of which was his willingness to advocate for philanthropy and encourage many others to come alongside the opportunity he saw to invest in the best talent and innovation he could find. We will all be better as we remember his advice and the encouragement he gave us to continue to invest in people who will advance the field of science and discovery for the benefit of all humankind. Peter will be honored indeed by our continued actions in his memory.”

 

Investing in Innovation

Through the O’Donnell Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. O’Donnell have underpinned some of the greatest milestones in medicine.

The O’Donnells’ investments in UT Southwestern were a major driving force behind the Medical Center’s development, resulting in international recognition and aiding in the Medical Center’s overall growth and prestige. Among many other programs he supported, the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute is one example of Mr. O’Donnell’s commitment to creating novel solutions to some of health care’s most pressing challenges. He established the Institute in 2015 with a $36 million gift, equipping UT Southwestern with the best tools, resources, and faculty to tackle brain disease and brain injury. Mr. O’Donnell was also passionate about giving in support of human nutrition research, and he founded the Friends of the Center for Human Nutrition at UT Southwestern in 1981.

Mr. O’Donnell’s tenacity and tremendous vision distinguished him as a giant in philanthropy. “I ran across a saying a long time ago that I never forgot: ‘Obstacles are what you see when you take your eye off the goal.’ I resolved to never take my eye off the goal. I’ve had a long interest in nutrition and systems biology, as well as in neuroscience and the brain. If you are convinced of it, you put your money into it,” he once said in an interview for Perspectives: 75 Years of Vision: Part II.

Peter and Edith O’Donnell’s generosity has sustained excellence in discovery for decades. Drs. Joseph Goldstein and Michael Brown received funds from the O’Donnell Foundation in the 1980s, which supported their research on cholesterol metabolism, eventually earning them the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1985. This research revolutionized scientific knowledge about the regulation of cholesterol metabolism and led to the development of statins, which help regulate cholesterol and have improved the quality of life for millions.

The O’Donnell Foundation continued supporting all six of the Nobel Laureates who came from UT Southwestern, as well as the 25 members of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) and those who were members of the National Academy of Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine).

Excellence was a watchword for Mr. O’Donnell in everything he did and touched. He was a giant of our institution and a quiet driving force in advancing medical science.

Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern
Peter and Edith O’Donnell’s generosity has sustained excellence in discovery for decades.

Mr. O’Donnell served as Chairman of the O’Donnell Foundation until 2016, where he developed and funded model programs designed to strengthen engineering, science education, and research. The Foundation provided a challenge grant that led to the creation of 32 $1 million science and engineering chairs at The University of Texas at Austin. Additionally, The O’Donnell Foundation established the plan that created the Institute for Computational Engineering and Science and constructed the Applied Computational Engineering and Science Building to promote interdisciplinary research at the graduate level.

The O’Donnell Foundation also played an important role in ensuring the next generation of leading physicians and scientists through the creation of the Endowed Scholars in Medical Science at UT Southwestern. The program was designed to launch the most promising new assistant professors on their biomedical research careers and thereby help develop future leaders for medical science.

Mr. O’Donnell understood the value of recruiting esteemed faculty to UT Southwestern. “I’m not a businessperson; I’m an investor. But in the case of the medical school, the return on investment is not mea­sured in profits but in enduring and positive leadership,” he stated in an interview included in Perspectives: 75 Years of Vision: Part II.

Leading with Heart

Southwestern Medical Foundation had the privilege of recognizing Peter and Edith O’Donnell as recipients of The Sprague Award in 1993. The award was given to commemorate the O’Donnells for their forward-looking investments in the future of medicine and their unyielding dedication to enabling progress.

Perhaps the most important aspect of any community is the health of its citizens. The citizens of Dallas have benefited enormously from the vision and generosity of Peter O’Donnell and the indelible mark he has left on research, education, and health care in our city.”

William T. Solomon, the current Chairman, President, and CEO of the O’Donnell Foundation, and a Trustee and former Chairman of the Board of Southwestern Medical Foundation

Mr. O’Donnell grew up in Dallas, Texas. He received his BS in Mathematics from The University of the South and his MBA from the Wharton Graduate School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Through the O’Donnell Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. O’Donnell have underpinned some of the greatest milestones in medicine.

Throughout his lifetime, Mr. O’Donnell led with a heart of service and demonstrated devotion to his city and nation. He was appointed to a National Academy of Sciences committee in 2005, which was tasked with creating a report to Congress that outlined a plan to ensure the prosperity of the United States in the global economy of the 21st century. He also served as a member of President Reagan’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, as Commissioner of the Texas National Research Laboratory Commission, and was appointed to the Texas Select Committee on Higher Education. He was a member of The Presidents’ Circle of the National Academy of Science, a founding member of the Academy of Medicine, Science and Engineering of Texas, a member of the National Innovation Initiative Council of the Council on Competitiveness, and a Trustee of the Cooper Institute.

Peter O’Donnell was a rare visionary who dedicated his life to making sure Texas became a world leader in research and excellence in education. His incredible and unprecedented philanthropy will have a lasting legacy for many generations of future Texans.

James R. Huffines, Chairman of Southwestern Medical Foundation

Mr. O’Donnell’s legacy will forever exemplify the pinnacle of scientific and medical progress he made possible. As we celebrate the incredible life of a friend and visionary, we remain inspired by the many ways in which his vision and remarkable work shaped who we are today.


Read Peter O’Donnell’s full obituary here in The Dallas Morning News.

Make a gift to support the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute here.