February 25, 2010
Contact: Public Affairs and Publications


Varmus to join local philanthropist Mary DeFeudis and Michael Horgan of Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland in receiving honorary degrees

WORCESTER, Mass.— Harold E. Varmus, MD, President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, former director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and co-recipient of the 1989 Nobel Prize in Medicine, will deliver the commencement address to graduating students of the University of Massachusetts Worcester at the institution’s 37th Commencement Exercises, to be held Sunday, June 6. Dr. Varmus shared the Nobel Prize with J. Michael Bishop, MD, for their studies of the genetic basis of cancer.

Born in New York, Varmus earned a bachelor’s degree in English literature at Amherst College and a master’s degree in English at Harvard University before deciding to focus on a career in science. He graduated from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and in 1970 joined the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF) as a post-doctoral fellow in Dr. Bishop’s laboratory; he joined the faculty in 1972 and was named full professor in 1979. It was at UCSF that Varmus and Bishop conducted the work that led to the Nobel Prize: their discovery of the cellular origins of a viral oncogene, a finding that led to the identification of many genes that control growth and development and are frequently mutated in human cancer.

In 1993, Varmus was named by President Clinton to serve as the director of the National Institutes of Health, a position he held until the end of 1999. During his tenure at the NIH, he initiated many changes in the conduct of intramural and extramural research programs; recruited new leaders; planned three major buildings on the Bethesda campus; and helped to initiate the five-year doubling of the budget that has lent considerable momentum to important biomedical research at institutions across the country, including UMass Worcester.

At Memorial Sloan-Kettering, Varmus continues to harness recent advances in the biological sciences to improve the care of patients with cancer. Seeking to ensure high-quality cancer care for all citizens of New York, Varmus helped to found a cancer clinic in central Harlem.

Varmus, who has authored hundreds of scientific publications, is a champion of open access scientific publishing; his memoir, The Art and Politics of Science, was published by W.W. Norton in 2009. Appointed by the Obama administration as co-chair of the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology, he continues to be a strong advocate for increased support of global health initiatives.

UMass Worcester will award an honorary degree to Varmus in recognition of his foundational contributions to biomedical research and his commitment to excellence in scientific inquiry and clinical care worldwide.

Local philanthropist Mary C. DeFeudis to receive honorary degree
UMass Worcester will award an honorary degree to Mary C. DeFeudis, a longtime local philanthropist, in recognition of her enthusiastic support for its academic health sciences center and her abiding love for her community and its residents.

Ms. DeFeudis was born in Worcester and has lived in the area for most of her life, concentrating her charitable and volunteer interests in areas that benefit children, cancer research and the betterment of the Central Massachusetts community. Her long history of philanthropy and service to UMass Worcester and its clinical partner, UMass Memorial Health Care, includes providing a number of leadership gifts that continue to benefit cancer research and pediatric health initiatives, notably as a key supporter of the Aaron Lazare Medical Research Building, which heralded an era of remarkable biomedical research growth.

Most recently, DeFeudis contributed her keen business acumen and expertise as chair of the UMass Memorial Foundation, the nonprofit organization that procures private philanthropic support for UMass Medical School and UMass Memorial. At the end of her term in 2009, DeFeudis was named chair of the newly formed UMass Medical School/UMass Memorial Development Council, through which she will continue to guide fundraising strategies that will benefit students and patients across Massachusetts.

In addition to her philanthropic efforts in education and medicine, DeFeudis is committed to a number of initiatives that elevate Worcester’s cultural and recreational offerings. She is a founder and board member of the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts; supports the United Way and the United Way Women’s Initiative; and serves on the Board of Directors of the Worcester Chapter of the American Red Cross.

In 2009, DeFeudis received multiple honors for her contributions to Worcester and Central Massachusetts: the Alexis de Tocqueville Award from the United Way of Central Massachusetts, in recognition of her generosity and philanthropic leadership; the Worcester Historical Museum’s Harvey Ball “Smile” Award, given annually to an individual or group “who has done something rather fantastic for the city of Worcester;” and, for her diligent and generous efforts on behalf of the Hanover Theatre, the Worcester Business Development Corporation’s Bowditch Award honoring her “generous spirit and high standards.”

Michael Horgan, former leader of Ireland’s Royal College of Surgeons, to receive honorary degree
Michael Horgan, former chief executive officer and registrar of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), will be honored for his considerable contributions to medical education and international educational partnerships. Under Mr. Horgan’s strategic and visionary leadership, RCSI has solidified its reputation as a leader in surgical and medical education while building an international reputation as an independent and progressive biomedical research institution. In 2008, UMass Worcester and RCSI formed a partnership to explore mutually beneficial collaborations, including opportunities in research, undergraduate and graduate medical education exchanges and international clinical services. With a dynamic and rapidly growing research enterprise—similar to that of UMass Worcester—RSCI is particularly interested in joining forces with investigators who are pioneering the use of RNAi-based therapies to target specific diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, Huntington’s Disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

From his groundbreaking idea in the early 1990s to equip every student with a personal laptop computer to his development of the first online surgical education delivery model, Horgan is inextricably tied to RCSI’s remarkable success. Under his leadership, the institution has become almost entirely financially independent, receiving just a small percentage of its resources from the Republic of Ireland.

In addition to his leadership of RCSI, Horgan has been instrumental in establishing new medical colleges throughout the Middle East and in Asia. In 2004, he was awarded the First Order of Bahrain for establishing the Medical University of Bahrain. Currently, RCSI is involved in a project to develop Africa’s health care infrastructure through a regional network of independent medical education centers free from political constraints. Horgan has also forged valuable partnerships with sister institutions and research funding agencies, and, like UMass Worcester, is committed to strengthening existing and establishing new international partnerships.

Horgan will join DeFeudis and Varmus at Commencement, to be held at UMass Worcester under a 3,000-seat tent on the campus green. The ceremony will begin at noon on Sunday, June 6, and will cap a weekend of celebratory events on campus that will include a celebration for faculty, graduates and their guests Saturday night. In addition, faculty, graduates and their guests will be invited to brunch on campus prior to Commencement on Sunday.

About the University of Massachusetts Worcester
The University of Massachusetts Worcester is one of five campuses of the University system and one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country. It encompasses the School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, the Graduate School of Nursing, a thriving research enterprise and an innovative public service initiative called Commonwealth Medicine. The institution’s mission is to serve the people of the commonwealth through national distinction in health sciences education, research and public service.