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VCU School of Medicine to receive $2.1 million Grandis family gift

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The Harry and Harriet Grandis Family Foundation announced a $2.1 million gift this month that will endow a full-tuition scholarship in the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine and an endowed chair to support lung cancer research.

In their lifetimes, Harry and Harriet Grandis were devoted to supporting medical education and cancer research.  To honor the legacy of the longtime Richmond philanthropists, their daughters, Betty Sue Grandis LePage and Nancy Grandis White, announced the gift Nov. 9 at a luncheon.

Their decision to support cancer research also was inspired by their late sister, Linda Grandis Blatt.  

An endowed chair and research fund at VCU Massey Cancer Center will bear Blatt’s name. The family’s gift brings Massey’s total funds raised through the ongoing $100 million Research for Life Campaign to more than $85 million.

“Our sister Linda died of lung cancer in 2006,” LePage told the luncheon audience of friends, family and university leaders. “She was a tenacious child. She fought her battle with cancer with the same tenacity. Her idea was that maybe one day, or the next day, or the next day, someone would find a cure. After her death, our father established a fund in her name with the hope of developing novel research.”

"The Grandis family's decision to honor the memory of Linda Grandis Blatt is not only inspiring, but highly significant to the mission of Massey Cancer Center,” said Gordon Ginder, M.D., director of VCU Massey Cancer Center. “Expanding our research efforts related to lung cancer is one of our top priorities as we seek to understand, prevent and treat this particularly deadly form of cancer.”

In accepting the family’s gift on behalf of the university, William Ginther, rector of the VCU Board of Visitors and friend of the Grandis family, commented, “My grandson asked me not too long ago ‘what was polio?’ I hope one day our grandchildren, or their children, will ask ‘what was cancer?’”

Scholarships for medical students were a priority for Harry and Harriet Grandis, who in the 1990s began making yearly gifts to fully cover the cost of tuition for deserving students. They supported more than a dozen young doctors in this way, the last of whom will graduate in May.

“Our mother and father took special pride in the accomplishments of all their students,” White said. “We’re so honored to be able to carry on this legacy.”

To preserve Mr. and Mrs. Grandis’ yearly gift, the Grandis Family Foundation has directed $1 million of its total gift to endow the Harry and Harriet Grandis Scholarship Fund.  Each year, the fund’s investment earnings will produce a full in-state scholarship for a deserving medical student. The gift launches the medical school’s new $25-million campaign to expand the medical school’s scholarship endowment.

“In their lifetimes, Harry and Harriet Grandis took a sincere and personal interest in giving our medical students the best possible start in their careers,” said Jerome Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine. “Their family has now ensured that Harry and Harriet’s generosity and dedication to society will continue. Generations of future physicians will graduate free of tuition debt and go on to care for patients in Virginia and all over the United States. This gift establishes an enduring legacy."

From coast to coast, and representing a range of specialties including pediatrics, ophthalmology and palliative care, the dozen Grandis Scholars tell stories of how the family’s past generosity enabled them to choose fields they were passionate about without the worry of a heavy burden of debt. In testimony to how the Grandis’ generous friendship impacted their lives, a half dozen Grandis Scholarship recipients returned to VCU for the announcement of the Grandis family’s gift.  

“I will never be able to say ‘thank you’ enough to the Grandis family,” said the Class of 1995’s Jennie Webb-Wright, who was the first medical student to receive a Grandis Scholarship and now works in the field of palliative medicine.  “Without it, not a single thing in my life today would be the same. This is my special place in medicine. It’s the perfect fit.  Working with dying patients, and those with long chronic illnesses, is really tough.  People in the palliative medicine field will tell you that it’s not possible to do it full time for long without burning out.  I have prevented burnout by working part time, which of course I couldn’t do if I had debts to pay.”

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