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Northwestern Trustee Ann Lurie Honored With Humanitarian Award

March 24, 2009
EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University trustee and philanthropist Ann Lurie has received the 2009 Jimmy and Rosalyn Carter Award for Humanitarian Contributions to the Health of Humankind by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

The award will be presented tonight (March 24) at an awards ceremony at the Ritz-Carlton, Pentagon City, Arlington, Va.

"Ann's life is an exceptional story of one person's commitment to helping people through worldwide professional, civic and philanthropic endeavors," said Northwestern University President Henry S. Bienen. Ms. Lurie was nominated for the award by Bienen and former U.S. Congressman John Edward Porter.

"Ann is a true archetype for the future of humanitarian leaders," said Porter. "She is on the ground, in the boardrooms and at the drawing table, working tenaciously for our collective welfare. Her leadership, commitment and actions continue to be catalysts for effective change and progress at all levels."

Over the past 20 years, she has donated more than $250 million to improving the health and well being of people in Chicago and around the world.

Ms. Lurie graduated from the University of Florida with a degree in nursing and immediately went into public health in and around Tallahassee. "I drove my little green Volkswagen Beetle around Leon County," she said. "I made home visits and weighed babies on a fish scale."

She worked in pediatrics at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, then eventually moved to Chicago to become a nurse at Children's Memorial Hospital in the early 1970s. It was there she met Robert H. Lurie, and they married. Lurie was a successful real estate investor and a partner of Sam Zell.

In 1985, Robert and Ann Lurie had their sixth child. They decided to turn their attention to others and establish a philanthropic foundation. But on New Year's Eve, 1987, Robert was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. He died less than three years later.

Ms. Lurie continued to be involved in the family investment business. She established her own firm, Lurie Investments, in the 1990s. "We started diversifying," she said, "and we were early participants in what has come to be known as social investing -- putting venture capital into early stage ideas and products that could have a positive impact on people's lives, particularly biomedical products and molecular diagnostics."

Her gifts endowed the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University -- where Robert was treated when he was sick -- as well as the state-of-the-art Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center, a 12-story building with lecture auditoriums and laboratories that accommodate more than 1,000 researchers, technicians, postdoctoral students and lab assistants.

She established two professorships at Northwestern and one at Children's Memorial Hospital, focusing on cancer research. She also funded a laboratory in the medical research center to study cancer genetics.

At the University of Michigan, her husband's alma mater, she has supported the schools of engineering and business, and she established the Marion Elizabeth Blue Professorship in Children and Families at the university's School of Social Work in memory of her mother. She added a matching challenge grant as an incentive for others to create fellowships.

Ms. Lurie recently pledged $100 million to help build the new Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children's Hospital of Chicago. The donation is the largest charitable investment ever received in the hospital's more than 125-year history. It is scheduled to open in 2012.

"This gift will transform Children's Memorial Hospital and the care that we are able to provide to children and families," said Patrick M. Magoon, the hospital's president and CEO.

One of Ms. Lurie's major endeavors now is her work in Africa. As the founder and president of Africa Infectious Disease (AID) Village Clinics, she oversees operations that provide medical care and education to the Maasai people of rural southeastern Kenya. She started the clinic in 2002 in one Airstream trailer towed by a used Land Cruiser. She had four employees. "There were no roads, no running water," she said. "No sanitary facilities."

She called on her early nursing experience in rural Florida. "That experience turned out to be very relevant to starting this clinic in Kenya," she said. "In the mid-70s rural Leon County was a lot like rural Africa with limited public health care."

Since 2002, she has made about 50 trips to Kenya. "It's a real hands-on project," she said. In the past six years, AID Village Clinics has continued its mobile outreach with the clinic on wheels while creating a fixed-base compound of 22 buildings, including laboratory facilities, a dispensing pharmacy, inpatient facilities for seriously ill patients, a voluntary counseling and testing center for HIV and four examination rooms. The medical compound provides clinical and education services to combat malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other diseases in an area 80 miles in diameter with a population of 90,000 people.

Working with ONE Love Africa, Ms. Lurie provided funding for 30 rural schools -- with electricity generators and fresh-water well -- in northern Ethiopia. She also provides money to a pediatric care program for HIV/AIDS patients in Rwanda, WE-ACTX.

She has also been generous in the community at large. Her largesse allowed the launch of the Greater Chicago Food Depository Campaign. She financially backed the lead poisoning prevention and triage nursing programs at the Infant Welfare Society. As co-founder of Gilda's Club, she helped establish a Chicago-based organization where families and friends of those diagnosed with cancer can get together for social, emotional and educational support.

Ms. Lurie also loves animals and funded the Lurie Family Spay Neuter Clinic, administered by PAWS, to help people on low incomes reduce the number of unwanted pets.

She has been named "Chicago's Most Powerful Woman In Philanthropy" by the Chicago Sun-Times; one of "Chicago's 100 Most Influential Women" by Crain's Business Chicago; one of "America's Top Donors" by the Chronicle of Philanthropy and one of the country's "Leading Philanthropists" by Business Week magazine.
Topics: University News