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What’s in a Name? Transformational Gift Has Roots in a Special Family’s Experiences

Date Posted: Tuesday, September 07, 2021

On September 7, 2021, the University of Massachusetts announced a history-making $175 million donation from The Morningside Foundation and the Chan family to UMass Medical School.

Among the many aspects of this transformational gift is the visibility of its inspiration, to be inscribed on stationary and directional signs, diplomas and building facades. UMass Medical School is now the UMass Chan Medical School. Its three graduate schools are the T.H. Chan School of Medicine; the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing; and the Morningside Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

As Chancellor Michael F. Collins, Gov. Charlie Baker, UMass President Martin T. Meehan, and members of the UMass Board of Trustees expressed their gratitude to the Chan family and Morningside Foundation during a celebratory event that day, philanthropist Gerald Chan explained why the state’s public medical school was the recipient. The straightforward title of his speech to those gathered says it all: A Tribute to My Parents.

“The gift to UMass has its roots in a life of giving that my parents lived. I consider it an honor that my family’s name will be associated with this distinguished public institution of learning, research and patient care,” Chan said. “It is now inextricably linked to the Chan family.”

His address went on to give “some color to this gift.” He described defining events in the lives of his father, T.H. Chan, and mother, Tan Chingfen; the former dying at an age younger than Chan is now, and the latter “still going strong at age 101.”

He explained that he didn’t know his father well and filled in the blanks based on stories and letters shared by relatives. One such story is about how his father donated blood to a long-time employee when the practice was to buy blood from individuals rather than receive it through blood banks, scarce in Hong Kong at the time. “My father, who was by then a well-to-do man, could have paid for blood. Instead, in that one act of giving which cuts through layers of socioeconomic strata, he affirmed the common humanity he had with the employee.

“His giving taught me that financial giving is but a surrogate that affirms a common humanity,” Chan continued. “I would like that this gift not be a mere conveyance of financial resources, but a continuation of the humanity that my father lived by.”

While Chan’s mother could have studied to become a physician, she chose nursing, asking, “Who would care for those sick patients?” she saw everywhere around her. After training in a British hospital in northern China, Chan’s mother worked as a registered nurse throughout his childhood, caring for patients in Hong Kong during widespread tuberculosis outbreaks. “It was with compassion and a spirit of service to others that she chose this career,” he said. “It is most fitting that a school of nursing should bear her name.

“The COVID pandemic today has shown us in startling clarity how critical nurses are at the front line of healthcare delivery. The traditional supportive role of nurses has given way to a model where nurses and nurse practitioners bear a large load in the healthcare system…more so as the prevalent disease burden in the world shifts from acute to chronic diseases.” Chan hopes that the Tan Chingfen Graduate School of Nursing will grow and train even more nurses to “play leadership roles in the future of healthcare.”

The Chan family’s long-standing commitment to investing in biotechnology – “the convergence of science, medicine and business” – is reflected in the Morningside name “that will hereafter be attached to the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences (GSBS).” He added that performing “top-notch” science is an expensive enterprise, involving a “competition to recruit and support the most talented scientists.

“If the GSBS is to continue its track record … evidenced by a home-grown Nobel Laureate, a Breakthrough Prize and much of the foundational work that underpinned the first gene therapy approved by FDA, it must have the resources.”

Chan concluded his remarks by noting that “it was sapient of the founders of UMass Medical School that it should consist of a school of science, a medical school and a school of nursing. The three schools exist separately but also cross-fertilize each other. This is a comprehensive training ground that develops talents for the health care of today and the health care of tomorrow. The world needs to look beyond Route 128 to see what a great educational and research institution has been built on the shores of Lake Quinsigamond.”