Board of Trustees Launches Initiative to Commemorate the Wrightons’ Legacies

The Wrighton Tribute Fund honors the extraordinary accomplishments of Washington University’s 14th chancellor and his wife.

When Mark S. Wrighton was selected from a pool of 350 candidates to become Washington University’s 14th chancellor in 1995, he was a highly esteemed chemist with a 23-year career as a professor and provost at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Shortly after arriving on campus, he described his greatest challenge in a profile that appeared in the university’s official newsletter. “The question that remains is, can I be creative in a role as an academic administrator rather than a scientist?”

As his tenure as chancellor comes to a close, the Board of Trustees and the university community have answered that query with a resounding “yes.” To celebrate his visionary leadership, the board created the Wrighton Tribute Fund. This special fundraising effort honors the outstanding achievements and dedicated service of the chancellor and his wife, Risa Zwerling Wrighton, MBA ’89.

“Mark and Risa have established a remarkable legacy at Washington University,” says Life Trustee John F. McDonnell, DSc ’06, MBA ’14. “Through the Wrighton Tribute Fund, members of the university community have the opportunity to provide lasting testaments to that legacy.”

Contributions to the fund will support university priorities, including scholarships and fellowships. The final designations will be based on the total raised.

As chancellor, Wrighton has overseen a period of tremendous growth in the university’s national and international reputation, the quality and diversity of its student body, the productivity and interdisciplinary collaboration of its faculty, and the global reach and impact of its programs. Total enrollment has risen by 33 percent, and undergraduate applications have more than doubled. The number of faculty members has increased by 48 percent with the addition of more than 1,000 scholars, researchers, and clinicians. And the university’s endowment has grown from $1.96 billion in 1995 to more than $8 billion today.

A social worker and former managed care executive, Ms. Zwerling Wrighton is known for her tireless efforts to enrich the lives of students and improve the St. Louis region. She is founder and director of Home Plate, a program that matches Washington University undergraduates with local families that host them for dinners in their homes. She also is an academic adviser and ardent supporter of student-led philanthropies. In 2015, she played a leadership role in launching the university’s Gun Violence Initiative.

“For more than two decades, Mark and Risa have served as stalwart leaders and compassionate caretakers for Washington University,” says Life Trustee Craig Schnuck, chair of the Board of Trustees. “The Wrighton Tribute Fund will help us recognize their extraordinary accomplishments.”

Chancellor Wrighton says he and his wife have been touched by the effort to honor them. “We are very grateful to the trustees and all those who have contributed to the fund. It has been a privilege for us to serve this great university, and it is extremely meaningful to be acknowledged in this way.”

When they begin the next chapter of their lives on June 1—when Chancellor-elect Andrew D. Martin officially becomes chancellor—it will be a bittersweet moment, Ms. Zwerling Wrighton says. “I liken it to the experience of sending a child off to college. We know WashU will be very well cared for. But the nervous parents that we are, we bought a house right across the street from the university.”