Paul Vanatta, M.D., is carrying on his father’s legacy of generosity. Through Southwestern Medical Foundation, he recently supported the Vanatta Scholarship for African American Medical Students, which was started by his father in 1999. Dr. John C. Vanatta III, who spent more than 50 years of his career at UT Southwestern Medical Center, was a man who believed in equality. He never knew a stranger, though he lived during a divisive time in our nation.

John Vanatta was a physiology professor who had a deep affection for medical students.  Paul recalls times in his childhood when medical students he met at his father’s office would take him aside and tell him how special his father was in the eyes of the students.  “It made a distinct impression on me regarding my father’s stature as an influential teacher,” said Paul.

Dr. John C. Vanatta III (right), who taught physiology to Southwestern Medical School students for over 50 years, was famous on campus for presenting a Water Balance Award – consisting of an ivy plant in a hospital urinal – to one or two freshman students who gave the best solutions to a clinical problem in water balance. The student in this photo is Charles Crumpler. Photo courtesy of UT Southwestern Library.  

“It is an honor to know Paul and help to steward the lasting legacies of Paul and John Vanatta. The permanently endowed Vanatta Scholarship for African American Medical Students which John began, and Paul continues to enhance, will forever support and encourage students of UT Southwestern to reach for their dreams."

Kathleen Gibson, President and CEO, Southwestern Medical Foundation

In the 1950s, John taught Paul that race was not a means to build barriers between fellow Americans. Instead, it was something to be celebrated. During a time when segregation was the norm, John understood the importance of leaning in and elevating those in a separate and more difficult existence.

“I can vividly remember being in Elliott’s hardware store in Dallas with my dad, when I was just five or six years old,” said Paul. “An African American man helped us find what we needed, and my dad made a point to tell the young man’s boss about his first-rate service. As we were loading up our car, my dad told me that there was so much discrimination in our world, and that he wanted to take every opportunity he could to reduce it.”

“My father grew up in a farming community in Indiana, but generations of his family have placed value on higher education. My father saw it as way of a better life for an individual, and a way to lift up the entire community.”

Paul Vanatta

“It is an honor to know Paul and help to steward the lasting legacies of Paul and John Vanatta,” said Kathleen M. Gibson, President and CEO of Southwestern Medical Foundation.  “The permanently endowed Vanatta Scholarship for African American Medical Students which John began, and Paul continues to enhance, will forever support and encourage students of UT Southwestern to reach for their dreams.  We are grateful and inspired by their vision to build a diverse student body and future work force in medicine.”

Granted to one African American student each year, the scholarship is a tribute to the importance the Vanatta family placed on education. “My father grew up in a farming community in Indiana, but generations of his family have placed value on higher education,” said Paul. “My father saw it as way of a better life for an individual, and a way to lift up the entire community.”

Paul Vanatta

Paul Vanatta, son of John Vanatta, sits in front of a framed American flag that covered his father's casket at his funeral in 2008. John Vanatta was a Lieutenant, Junior Grade and served in the Pacific theater toward the end of the World War II as a medical officer on a destroyer escort.  

Paul now lives in Arizona, but was born at old Parkland Hospital, which was the teaching hospital for Southwestern Medical College when it was founded in 1943. Perhaps inspired by his own father, he went on to graduate from UT Southwestern in 1978. He completed his residency in pathology at Parkland Hospital.

Paul was a 1978 co-recipient of the Ho Din Award, which annually recognizes a student who best represents the unique personal qualities embodied in all great physicians – medical wisdom and human understanding. It is the highest honor awarded to a student of UT Southwestern.

We are grateful for families like the Vanattas, who continue to drive the standard of excellence for medical education in our region.