This Donor Just Gave Big for a Medical School. But He's Really Into Something Else

Mark McAndrew, 61, was CEO of Torchmark, a holding company specializing in supplemental health and life insurance, for 32 years, until stepping down in June, 2012.

The other day, he announced a $2.4 million gift to the University of Missouri School of Medicine to establish an endowed chair in oncology, and to substantially accelerate promising research conducted by MU cancer researcher Fred Hawthorne, who is using boron-neutron therapy to treat cancer. Though the gift is certainly generous and important to the university, don’t expect more of the same. If and when McAndrew gives to his alma mater again, it will be to fund a scholarship. How do we figure?

This gift was inspired by his late aunt, Frances T. McAndrew, who was treated at the Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, part of the University of Missouri health care system. “Frances was a tremendous person— truly a good soul—and it is a privilege to be able to make this gift in her honor,” McAndrew said. “Frances always spoke highly of the top-notch care she received at the MU Ellis Fischel Cancer Center, and I hope this gift will help continue to advance the premier research and care the MU health system provides.”

You can tell a lot about a funder’s thinking from grant-announcement press releases, even if the language often sounds canned, and this is no exception. Though McAndrew mentions the MU Cancer Center, he doesn’t get big-picture with his language, omitting discussion about the importance of general cancer research, or how many lives could be saved. It’s easy to connect the dots: His aunt was treated here, and he’s honoring her memory with his gift. Over and out.

By contrast, the news of McAndrew’s 2008 gift to MU offers a very different sense of his priorities. In 2008, McAndrew put up $1.4 million to provide a four-year scholarship (worth up to $15,000) to one student from every county in Missouri, plus the city of St. Louis. And the language he used to describe his motivation was different: “So many kids who live in a rural environment feel that they don’t have the opportunity to go to college,” McAndrew said. “When I was in Clark County a few years ago, I saw one of my high school classmates. He was very bright, in the top 10 of his class, but he never made it to college. I realized how unfortunate it is that people like him and so many other students never have the chance to go to college. I hope this scholarship program makes it possible for more students to have that chance.” 

You can hear the empathy, can’t you? That’s because five of McAndrew’s siblings were unable to attend college. He gets that it’s a struggle for a lot of people to afford an education. And while this latest gift was inspired by the respect and love he had for his aunt, this 2008 scholarship gift was inspired by deep-seated, "there but for fortune go I" hubris. Now that McAndrew is done with Torchmark, we’re betting he’s looking for other things to do with the rest of his money. And we’re expecting scholarships will be high on that list.