MU to receive $1.1 million donation for women's health care training

Friday, October 16, 2009 | 3:46 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA – George Huggins has dedicated his career to teaching physicians and advancing women's health care. His wife, Jean Baker, has had ties to MU for generations.

As a result of their dedication to education and ties to the university, the couple has pledged $1.1 million dollars of their estate to establish the George Huggins and Jean Baker Endowed Chair in Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women's Health. It will be part of the department of obstetrics and gynecology and women's health at MU.

"The remainder of the estate will be funneled into scholarships for students" in the School of Medicine, said Huggins, who appeared with his wife at an announcement ceremony on Friday in the Reynolds Alumni Center.

For Huggins, the decision to donate the money came from his experiences at MU. Raised in St. Louis, he graduated from medical school at MU and completed his residency in 1967. "My first year of medical school was $650," he said, laughing at the cost of tuition then.

Huggins was a teaching physician, primarily in gynecology, at the University of Mississippi, the University of Pennsylvania and at Johns Hopkins University. When he retired from Johns Hopkins, he was awarded the university's Master Educators Award.

But although he taught elsewhere in his long career, Huggins credits his home state of Missouri — which he told the gathering is properly pronounced "Missourah" — with giving him the opportunity and the resources to become a doctor.

"This was an opportunity for us to give back to those who follow us," he said.

Money from the donation will pay for the salary of the person who holds the chair and allow for "protected time" to concentrate on educational activities, rather than administrative duties, Huggins said. Unfortunately, that ability and focused attention has been eroded over the years, he added.

The decision to donate more than $1 million to MU was discussed over many years, said Baker, who has a bachelor's degree in education from the university. "My mother and brother were able to attend MU because of endowed scholarships," she said, going on to note the importance of helping others receive a college education.

Baker said her grandmother decided to live in Columbia so that her children could live at home while they went to college and be able to afford college. A life observation from that grandmother, who ran a boarding house for college students, has had a lasting effect on Baker: "A person with one semester of college will do better in life than a person with no college." Baker established two previous scholarships at MU: The Chester A. and V. Marguerite Baker Memorial Endowment; and the Larry S. and Jean Baker Harper Endowed Scholarship Fund for International Agricultural Studies.

"It's important to help people who might not be able to go to school on their own," Baker said in a release. "By giving, I set an example for my children to give back."

Huggins and Baker, who live in Tuscon, Ariz., met some 40 years ago at MU when he was a medical student and she was a nursing student. They reconnected when Baker was looking for a physician for her ailing mother. A resulting correspondence between the two eventually became a marriage.

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