$3 Million Gift to UMass Medical School Announced: Jack and Shelley Blais of Framingham make "stunning" donation, pledge to support cancer research, pediatric programs

December 7, 2000

WORCESTER, Mass. - With the stroke of a pen, a Framingham entrepreneur and his wife have made an indelible mark on medical research in Massachusetts: their $3 million gift will fund pediatric cancer research at the University of Massachusetts Medical School for generations to come. Jack Blais, the founder of an optical coating corporation that was recently purchased by Corning, delivered the first installment - a personal check for $1 million - at a lunch with Anna Pierce at the end of October, and followed up with a pledge of similar checks in each of the next two years.

"I'm humbled and honored at the generosity of Jack and Shelley Blais," said Mrs. Pierce, who has worked to raise funds to support cancer research at UMass Medical School since her daughter Ali's death from liver cancer. It was the courageous story of Ali and her father, John, which originally drew the Blaises to support UMass Medical School's Campaign for Research. Ali, a high school freshman, succumbed to cancer in 1996; her father died of a heart attack less than a year later while training for a marathon he was planning to run in order to raise money for the endowment fund created in her memory.

The Blais gift will support pediatric cancer research in UMass Medical School's new research laboratory building, currently under construction on the Worcester campus and set to open in August 2001. In recognition of the gift, the Child Life Program Playroom at the UMass Memorial Children's Medical Center will be named "Shelley's Place" after Mrs. Blais.

"This is a stunning act of generosity and a dramatic show of support for the incredible work done by cancer researchers at UMass Medical School," said Chancellor and Dean Aaron Lazare. "This extraordinary gift will have a direct and immediate impact on our mission of curing disease and alleviating suffering through medical research."

A mechanical engineer, who built his fortune by turning concepts into reality, Mr. Blais is taking an engineer's approach to raise the $5 million goal needed to construct and outfit state-of-the-art laboratories, and recruit researchers to the laboratory of Peter E. Newburger, MD, professor of pediatrics and molecular genetics & microbiology. Dr. Newburger was the doctor who oversaw Ali's treatment at UMass. Mr. Blais spent the day after Thanksgiving culling through his rolodex of friends and associates to identify potential donors who will join him "We will get this done," he predicted. "I just want it to happen in my lifetime."