George P. Smith, who made history Oct. 3 when he won MU’s first Nobel Prize, further cemented his legacy Tuesday with the announcement that he’ll donate his $243,000 prize money to MU.
His donation will support needs-based scholarships for future College of Arts and Science students, the home college of his groundbreaking research. The announcement came at a lecture Smith gave Tuesday evening to a full Jesse Auditorium.
The University of Missouri System and MU will also contribute $200,000 to scholarships. MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright set aside an additional $100,000 for scholarships, which he wants to do every time an MU faculty member wins a Nobel. MU will also match any donations made to the Nobel Scholarship during Mizzou Giving Day on Wednesday and Thursday.
“It has put Missouri on the map,” Cartwright said. “It’s the first in a long line of Nobel prizes that we’ll have here at Mizzou.”
The 78-year-old MU Curators Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with two other scientists.
Since then, he’s become a local and international celebrity. He’s risen from “Mr. Phage Display” within his niche scientific field to broader public acclaim.
Smith’s teaching roots at MU span more than four decades.
“I prospered here,” Smith said in an interview last month with his wife, Margie Sable. “I think I owe a lot to Mizzou, and this is a pretty appropriate place to give the money to. It’s also money for a healthy, academic institution.”
Smith and Sable said the choice was easy. They never thought of donating to any other group or organization.
“He has a liberal arts background, and he knows a lot about literature, humanities, art and music, and, you know, I think he wanted it to go to the college that has all of those things,” said Sable, director emerita of the MU School of Social Work.
The morning of Smith’s win, Sable hinted to Cartwright that the family would probably donate the money to MU. The news was music to Cartwright’s ears, which were still popping — he was fresh off a multi-leg journey from Thailand.
Having a Nobel Laureate faculty member like Smith helps potential faculty and researchers considering MU realize, “Well, George did it here, right? We can go there and do it,” Cartwright said. That reputation helps MU, as a research institution, receive grant funding and attract junior faculty members.
Sable said she’s heard people across campus and town say they’ve been inspired to donate and contribute to the university because of Smith’s win.
The money never hit the pockets of Smith and Sable — the couple elected to have it funneled directly to the university from the Nobel Foundation so no taxes would be applied.
The chemistry prize winners’ combined work led to life-preserving drugs, such as Humira.
“Humira is a wonder drug that completely changes their quality of life,” Smith said.
The list price of Humira in the United States is too high, he emphasized. In the United Kingdom, where one of his fellow Chemistry Prize winners conducts research, the price is $50,000 less expensive per year.
“Society may well be justified in demanding that the benefits of research that they helped pay for be more equitably distributed,” he said, noting most scientific research, including his, is publicly funded.
Donating to the university is old news for the couple. Sable said the family has donated to KBIA/91.3 FM, their respective colleges, Friends of Music, Mizzou Women Give and other organizations.
Earlier in the evening, College of Arts and Science Dean Pat Okker moderated a panel of Smith, Sable, Cartwright and two Missouri School of Journalism students who traveled to Stockholm to cover the Nobel festivities in December.
The group reminisced over their favorite memories from the trip, like taking in the beauty of a 64-gun warship on display at the Vasa Museum. Cartwright praised the reportage of the student journalists, Meg Cunningham and Savannah Rudicel.
To end the big night, the Columbia Chorale sang to celebrate its fellow musician, who helped found the group in 1978.
Supervising editor is Elizabeth Brixey.