Retirees Association

On Civility, by Larry Prochaska

Larry Prochaska

Today, there is a significant societal decay of the civil treatment of people. I experienced my own life lesson in civility which had an unexpected and profound result. It began with a phone call from a person who had questions about cardiovascular related diseases and current research at Wright State in the School of Medicine. After about a half an hour, we decided that she should visit my laboratory. She drove to campus and upon arrival, I met a modestly dressed woman in her eighties. She was well spoken but not highly educated in the sciences. We spoke for about an hour and during our meeting, she revealed that she wanted to leave a legacy for society in memory of her husband, Henry, who had died of a stroke. As we concluded the appointment, I told her she could call me anytime.

Over the next few months she called me with her questions related to heart disease or stroke. She was always polite and considerate of my time. If I was busy, I would call her back later. She visited campus again, although her failing health did not allow her to drive on her own. By this time, I had spoken with my chair, Dan Organisciak, and arranged for him to meet her. At this meeting, she stated that she was thinking of changing her will as she had no heirs. Dan described several options if she chose to donate funds to Wright State. We both thought to ourselves that she would live 10 or 15 more years.

I stayed in touch by mail, yet I was a little surprised when she invited us to her modest home for tea. We went and exchanged pleasantries, but she did not mention her will. Two months later she died. Dan and I attended her funeral service at an all-black church in rural Jefferson Township where we were welcomed with open arms. At that point we expected nothing in return. We soon learned that she left my laboratory $900,000 for heart and stroke related research.

Her legacy to my lab was used to fund the training and research of three Biomedical Science Ph.D. students in the biochemistry and biophysics of heart mitochondria, the powerhouse of heart and brain cells. Their work resulted in six publications in peer-reviewed journals and 24 national presentations. Her gift also funded the training of two M.S. biochemistry students and two undergraduate Honors students in biology.

I was completely blindsided by the generosity and thoughtfulness of this lovely woman named Emily Webb. You just never know where treating people with civility will lead you.

Editor's note: This is the President's Column from the Winter 2020 edition of The Extension, the newsletter of the WSU Retirees Association.