Medical Center mourns loss of 'devoted friend'

Harold C. Simmons, a visionary philanthropist, exceptional businessman and generous donor to UT Southwestern Medical Center, passed away on Dec. 28 at the age of 82.

Harold C. Simmons
Harold C. Simmons

Over three decades, Mr. Simmons and his wife, Annette, along with the family’s foundation, contributed to UT Southwestern nearly $200 million, which had a transformative impact on the institution. This included a record-setting $125 million in contributions to the Innovations in Medicine campaign. 

“Harold Simmons was a devoted friend whose generosity leaves an indelible and enduring imprint on our campus,” said Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern. “His magnanimous support will continue to benefit UT Southwestern and our patients for decades to come.”

Mr. Simmons’ philanthropic support of UT Southwestern reflected his passion for advancing scientific research that promises to improve lives and patient care.

Mr. Simmons’ generosity was instrumental in establishing the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center. In 1988, the Simmons family donated $41 million to UT Southwestern. Of that, $24 million established the Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, a gift that was supplemented in 1999 with $5 million and in 2004 with an additional $15.4 million. In 2005, he and his wife gave $50 million to accelerate the development of a nationally ranked cancer program. He also made donations for endowed chairs in cancer research and clinical oncology. Mr. Simmons and his family have given and pledged more than $100 million to enhance cancer programs alone at UT Southwestern.

Today, the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center in North Texas. The center brings innovative cancer care to the region, while fostering groundbreaking basic research that has the potential to improve patient care and prevention of cancer worldwide.

The Harold and Annette Simmons Comprehensive Center for Research and Treatment in Brain and Neurological Disorders has similarly made possible fundamental discoveries that are providing new insights into brain function and neurological disorders, addressing some of the most devastating unmet medical needs of our time, such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Mr. Simmons and his family also provided gifts for research into the treatment of kidney disease and arthritis, the latter including the establishment of the Harold C. Simmons Arthritis Research Center. He supported various outreach efforts of the university, including a $1 million gift to support a program that sends UT Southwestern physicians to South Africa, as well as $1 million to cover a shortfall in state funding for family planning clinics. He also endowed five Distinguished Chairs named for his wife and daughters.

In addition to funding key programs, Mr. Simmons helped ensure that UT Southwestern had facilities that enable its outstanding faculty and staff to fulfill the mission of the institution. Those included the Simmons Biomedical Research Building on the North Campus, named for his parents, Reuben Leon and Fairess Clark Simmons, and the Annette Simmons Stereotactic Treatment Center at Zale Lipshy University Hospital. His most recent pledge was to the Building the Future of Medicine campaign for the new William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, which will open in late 2014.

“Harold was an extraordinary man who combined a brilliant and decisive business mind with quiet thoughtfulness and great loyalty toward others,” said Dr. Kern Wildenthal, President Emeritus and Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, who is now president of the Children’s Medical Center Foundation and a member of the Board of Trustees of Southwestern Medical Foundation. “He was committed to translating his business successes into helping improve society through philanthropy, and he succeeded in doing so at a scale that few others have approached in American history. For 30 years, UT Southwestern has been the greatest beneficiary of his generosity, and his impact on the quality of our institution has been absolutely crucial in our rise to pre-eminence.”

Simmons Cancer Center - NCI Designation
In 2010, Dallas philanthropists Harold C. and Annette Simmons (third and second from right) joined (from left) Dr. Kern Wildenthal; Dr. James K. Willson, Director of the Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center; and Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky; and Dr. Eugene Frenkel (far right), Professor of Internal Medicine and a longtime friend of the Simmons family, to announce that the Simmons Center had received National Cancer Institute designation as a top-tier cancer center.

Mr. Simmons was a legendary, self-made American billionaire who was the middle son of rural Texas schoolteachers. After he graduated from UT Austin in 1952 with a master’s degree in economics, he worked first for an agency of the U.S. government and then for a Dallas-based bank. At age 29, he borrowed money to buy a small drugstore, using his $5,000 savings for a down payment. Within a decade he had built a statewide drugstore chain worth more than $50 million.

He sold the drugstore chain to the Eckerd Corp. in 1973 and launched a career as an investor. He prospered as a brilliant and creative financier and controlled numerous companies.

In 1988, Mr. Simmons established the Harold Simmons Foundation, which supports programs that promote education, health care, social welfare, and the arts. His two daughters help manage the foundation, through which a major part of the family’s philanthropy is carried out. Lisa K. Simmons is President of the foundation and Serena Simmons Connelly is Director.

Annette Simmons, a native of Tyler, Texas, and a graduate of Southern Methodist University, has served in a variety of civic organizations and has been on the boards of the National Kidney Foundation of Texas, the Parkland Foundation, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Southern Methodist University Tate Lecture Series, and the Crystal Charity Ball.

Her community involvement has earned her numerous awards, including the Crystal Charity Ball Hall of Fame Award in 1997. She also was honored in 2008 with the naming of the Annette Simmons Rose Garden at UT Southwestern.

She and her husband jointly received Southwestern Medical Foundation’s Charles Cameron Sprague Community Service Award in 1995, the Dallas Historical Society Philanthropy Award for Excellence in Community Service in 1999, the Annette G. Strauss Humanitarian Award in 2000, and the Dallas County Medical Society Alliance’s “Champ Award” in 2003.

In addition to their support of UT Southwestern, the Simmonses are major benefactors of countless other organizations, many of which are affiliated with the medical center, including Parkland Memorial Hospital, Children’s Medical Center Dallas, Baylor University Medical Center, Texas Scottish Rite Hospital for Children, SMU and its Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, UT Austin, Dallas Center for the Performing Arts, Our Children’s House, Dallas County Dental Society, Dallas Achieves, Uplift Education, Big Thought, Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Dallas Black Dance Theatre, YWCA, TexProtects, Ronald McDonald House, the Crystal Charity Ball, and Presbyterian Faith Hospice.

“Harold Simmons was a business genius and one of America’s industrial giants in the second half of the 20th century,” said William Solomon, Chairman of the Board of Southwestern Medical Foundation. “His remarkable financial success together with his great spirit of philanthropy, plus the fact that early on he saw UT Southwestern’s potential for world-class greatness, combined to make UT Southwestern – and, by extension, tens of thousands of others – beneficiaries of his life’s accomplishments. It would be a large understatement to observe that UT Southwestern would not be what it is today without Harold Simmons.”

Connie Piloto

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.

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