Two from UMMS receive Telegram & Gazette Visions Awards

By Alison Duffy

UMass Medical School Communications

January 17, 2011
Visions

For many in this region, it’s difficult to imagine Worcester without UMass Medical School. This weekend, the Telegram & Gazette’sannouncement of its 2010 Visions Community Awards winners helped illustrate why: Two of the five recipients of these much-anticipated awards are part of the Medical School family. 

Mary C. DeFeudis, a local philanthropist and chair of the UMass Medical School/UMass Memorial Development Council, was named recipient of the 2010 Isaiah Thomas Award, the highest of the Visions Awards. The Isaiah Thomas Award honors “an outstanding citizen who has volunteered his or her time and abilities to improve the quality of life in the Worcester area.” 

In addition, Jennifer M. MacDonald, who not only juggles a grueling work load as an MD/PhD student at UMMS but also volunteers at two area free medical programs and through the Red Cross, received the Young Leader Award. This award recognizes outstanding achievement in business, professional life or community leadership by an individual age 35 or younger. 

DeFeudis was profiled in a Sunday Telegram article and MacDonald was featured in a subsequent Telegramarticle. In addition to the Isaiah Thomas Award and the Young Leader Award, the Telegram bestows a Public Service Award, Cultural Enrichment Award and Academic Achievement Award. All five awardees will be honored at a reception on Wednesday, Feb. 9, at Mechanics Hall that will feature a keynote address from Gov. Deval L. Patrick.

Mary C. DeFeudis, Isaiah Thomas Award 

DeFeudisBorn in Worcester, DeFeudis has a long history of philanthropy and service to UMass Medical School and clinical partner UMass Memorial Health Care, and has given a number of leadership gifts that benefit cancer research and pediatric health initiatives, including the Mary C. DeFeudis Chair in Cancer Care and Research. Speaking of the importance of such support for the two institutions, DeFeudis remarked, “It’s very exciting—the hospital and the university are wonderful. I’m so proud that we have them here in Worcester. We have a Nobel Prize winner, Craig Mello, whose discoveries are sure to have an effect on cancer, Alzheimer’s and many other diseases … People don’t realize that without philanthropy, the research that won that Nobel Prize may never have happened. To be innovative, to think outside the box, they really need that research money.” 

DeFeudis also 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. Upon completion of her term in 2009, she was named chair of the newly formed UMass Medical School/UMass Memorial Development Council, through which she continues to guide fund-raising strategies that benefit students and patients across Massachusetts. At Commencement 2010, DeFeudis received an honorary degree “in recognition of her enthusiastic support for the academic health sciences center and her abiding love for her community and its residents.” 

“All of us—the students, faculty, staff and the patients we serve as UMass Medical School—are so fortunate to count Mary C. DeFeudis among one of our most enthusiastic champions,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins at the 2010 Investiture ceremony.

Jennifer MacDonald, Young Leader Award 

MacDonaldWhile not a Worcester native, 28-year-old Jennifer MacDonald, who grew up in Torrington, Conn., has embraced the city since she was an undergraduate at Clark University and has spent her time, energy and talent putting pieces together. As a senior there, she began volunteering with the Red Cross Disaster Action Team, volunteers who are mobilized to help during local disasters. She found it rewarding “to be there when someone needs you most, when they have nothing left and you can help provide just the basic things they need—a place to stay, some food and clothing—to get back on their feet.” 

After graduation from Clark, she took a year off to decide whether to pursue science or medicine and landed a position in the lab of Marc R. Freeman, PhD, associate professor of neurobiology, where she is currently investigating which genes are involved in the reaction of glial cells to nerve injury. Energized by Freeman’s “obvious excitement about UMass and where it’s going” and intrigued by the idea of translational medicine, she found the MD/PhD program to be the right fit. “I like to be the person who pulls together people and groups, and an MD/PhD seemed like a wonderful way to pull together the worlds of science and medicine.”

Yet another opportunity to “pull together” arose shortly after MacDonald enrolled at UMMS, when she began volunteering at the Worcester Evening Free Medical Service Program at Epworth United Methodist Church, which operates free weekly clinics for area residents. UMMS students have a long history of volunteering with several such clinics in the city. At the time, the Worcester Evening Free Medical Service was in the midst of change—the lead physician was retiring and its board was having difficulty finding physicians to cover the weekly evening hours. “So I just jumped in,” MacDonald says matter-of-factly. “I pulled in a number of UMass doctors and patched together coverage so the clinic could continue to see patients.” MacDonald is now a member of the clinic’s board and continues to recruit doctors and oversee the coverage schedule, using a simple e-mail reminder system and her natural talent as a networker and leader that seems to underlie all of her work: “One person can’t do it all, but one person can make connections and see how to fit needs and resources together, and one person can ask others to come together to get it done.” 

For information about, or to RSVP for, the free, public reception honoring the Telegram & Gazette Visions Community Awards winners, contact Katy Donohue at kdonohue@telegram.com.