“Despite all the scientific honors and scientific chapters in print, I think one of the most prideful things I have done is get Triangle Community Foundation off the ground.”
- Dr. George H. Hitchings
What better way to start our 40 stories in celebration of 40 years than with the story of our founder, Dr. George Hitchings?
In the late summer of 1983, George Hitchings made a bold suggestion to Shannon St. John, who would become our first president – “let’s start a community foundation.” In November, that suggestion became a reality, beginning with just a $1,000 donation. Five years later, Dr. Hitchings won the Nobel Prize alongside Sir James W. Black and Gertrude B. Elion for their discoveries of “important principles for drug treatment.” He subsequently gave his Nobel Prize winnings to the Foundation, providing stable footing and a baseline for growth.
George was born in Hoquiam, Washington in 1905. His father was a master shipbuilder, and George’s youth was spent up and down the west coast of the United States due to his father’s work. While living in Seattle, his father died from a prolonged illness when George was just 12. His father’s death had a profound effect on him, and George turned his thoughts toward a career in medicine. When he began at the University of Washington in 1923 it was as a premed student. However, the Chemistry Department was where he found the most affinity, and subsequently became a chemistry major. He graduated cum laude in 1927, stayed an extra year to earn a master’s degree, and then set off for Boston, graduating in 1933 with a PhD from Harvard.
George went on to an illustrious and fulfilling career at Burroughs Welcome that spanned more than 40 years, almost all of that time in partnership with fellow prizewinner Gertrude Elion. Their work focused on antivirals, and they invented an approach to research which focused on normal cell functions that transformed the standard practices of drug development.
In 1968 George became Director and subsequently President of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, which at the time was small and supported solely by the organization (in 1995 the fund became wholly independent and today has assets close to $1 billion). The focus of the fund at the time, and still today, is on funding biomedical research.
George was an active member of the Triangle community, concentrating most of his volunteer time with organizations working in the field of medicine. Wanting to give back to the community in a different way was most likely his impetus for starting Triangle Community Foundation, with a vision “for a community that came together, set aside differences, and gave back to those in need.”
Today we support George’s legacy through the George Hitchings Legacy Society, a designation for donors who leave a legacy gift to the Foundation - whether in an estate plan or will, naming the Foundation or a fund as beneficiary of a life insurance policy or of a retirement plan, or other vehicle. We also administer The George H. Hitchings New Investigator Award in Health Research, which supports pre-doctoral research of students working toward a Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine at North Carolina State University. Over the last 40 years there have been several funds either founded by George or created in honor of him by the Foundation and Burroughs Wellcome Fund to support community needs, scholarships and health research in the Triangle. We are forever grateful to George for his vision that has brought us to today and will sustain us in the future.
Are you a current donor interested in joining the George Hitchings Legacy Society? Contact Senior Development Officer Carla Abramczyk to learn more at email@example.com.