Pledge Brings Farrells’ Support for Alzheimer’s Disease Research to $10 Million

Gift will provide expendable funds to further the work of faculty members who are investigating the tau protein.

Emeritus Trustee David Farrell’s long association with Washington University and its School of Medicine has been built on personal relationships. Over the years, he developed friendships with a number of medical school faculty members, including the late I. Jerome Flance, AB ’31, MD ’35, who was his personal physician, the late David Kipnis, MD, former head of the Department of Medicine, and William Peck, MD, former dean and executive vice chancellor for medical affairs. His ties at the medical school were strengthened after he joined the school’s national council in 2006.

Emeritus Trustee David Farrell

A personal connection also inspired Mr. Farrell and his late wife, Betty, to provide generous support for Alzheimer’s disease research at Washington University. Mrs. Farrell, who had the disease, was treated by John Morris, MD, the Harvey A. and Dorismae Hacker Friedman Distinguished Professor of Neurology at the School of Medicine. Before her death in November, the couple made a $5 million pledge to advance the study of Alzheimer’s and the identification of treatments to prevent or slow its progression.

“We are blessed in St. Louis to have outstanding doctors and scientists like Dr. Morris who are dedicated to coming up with answers for this dreadful and devastating disease,” says Mr. Farrell, former chief executive officer of the May Department Stores Co. “The amount of research being conducted on Alzheimer’s disease at Washington University is impressive. The university has one of the leading Alzheimer’s research centers in the country.”

This latest pledge brings the Farrells’ total contributions for Alzheimer’s disease research at the university to $10 million. The gift will provide expendable funds to further the work of faculty members who are investigating the tau protein, which has emerged as a major culprit in Alzheimer’s.

“The buildup of tau is a key factor leading to damage in the brains of patients with Alzheimer’s disease,” says David Holtzman, MD, the Andrew B. and Gretchen P. Jones Professor and chair of the Department of Neurology. Studies conducted by Dr. Holtzman and colleagues at the medical school have helped illuminate the protein’s role in the disease.

“This generous and timely gift from the Farrell family will enable us to develop a better understanding of the tau protein and ways to reduce or eliminate its impact,” Dr. Holtzman adds. “We plan to focus on targeting tau therapeutically.”

The Farrells’ legacy of service and philanthropy at Washington University extends far beyond the realm of Alzheimer’s disease. In 2000, they established the David C. and Betty Farrell Distinguished Professorship in Medicine—currently held by Stuart Kornfeld, MD—in partnership with the May Co. That same year, they named the conference facility in the Center for Advanced Medicine on the medical campus in conjunction with the establishment of the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center. Two years later, they made a leadership gift to build the Farrell Learning and Teaching Center at the medical school.

Mr. Farrell joined Washington University’s Board of Trustees in 1979. He has served as an emeritus trustee since 2005. He and his wife were awarded the Robert S. Brookings Award in 2006 for their extraordinary dedication to the university. Additionally, Mr. Farrell received an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 2007 and the William Greenleaf Eliot Society’s Search Award in 2009.

Mr. Farrell hopes his support will help lead to a cure for Alzheimer’s disease. “It brings me a great deal of satisfaction to assist with a vitally important endeavor,” he says. “I feel very fortunate to be able to aid in this research.”