Giving 'Nobly' To Beat Cancer

Weill Cornell Medical College Will Announce $75M Gift From Edward H. Meyer and His Wife, Sandra



Jan. 7, 2014 11:59 p.m. ET

The 50 years that Edward H. Meyer spent in the advertising business provided what he describes as plenty of “excitement and enjoyment,” but the work did not seem to “serve any higher purpose as far as I could see.”


Sandy and Edward H. Meyer

Mr. Meyer was determined he would make a contribution—at some point in his life—that would perhaps even have some “nobility” to it, he said.

On Wednesday, Weill Cornell Medical College will announce a $75 million gift from Mr. Meyer and his wife, Sandra. The money will be used to expand the medical college’s cancer care and research programs; Weill Cornell will rename its main campus building at 1300 York Ave. for the Meyers.

The gift, the couple’s first to the medical college, has been in the works since Mr. Meyer retired in 2006 from a decades-long career at Grey Global Group, an advertising and marketing agency, where he was the chairman and chief executive. Today, Mr. Meyer, who is in his 80s, is chairman of Ocean Road Advisors Inc., an investment management company he runs with son Anthony Meyer.

The couple’s decision to focus their giving on cancer research and care came down to personal connections and timing. Mr. Meyer’s grandmother and parents died of cancer. Mrs. Meyer has had three close friends die from cancer.

“It was imprinted on me that cancer is a disease that not only injures people, but the idea of it scares the hell out of people,” said Mr. Meyer in an interview this week.

The Meyers, who live in New York, wanted to give in a way that would provide the greatest contribution to research. They have become students of research and the scientists who conduct it, following the new developments in targeted therapies to control tumor growth. They especially clicked with Laurie Glimcher, a scientist and dean of Weill Cornell.

The gift to the medical college began to take shape after Mr. Meyer made a visit in 2011 to Cornell University’s main campus in Ithaca, N.Y. He graduated from Cornell in 1948 with a degree in economics, but he said he was “negligent” about affiliating with the school or returning to campus. On that visit, he saw Cornell’s new economics department in action. A year later, he made a $4 million gift to endow a professorship in economics.

The gifts to the economics department and to Weill Cornell were both influenced by the couple’s daughter, economist and professor Margaret Meyer, who lives in England.

What clinched the gift to Weill Cornell was Ms. Meyer’s time doing laboratory work decades ago with Lewis C. Cantley, who is leading Weill Cornell’s new cancer center.

At her father’s urging, Ms. Meyer visited New York to reconnect with Dr. Cantley. She reported back that Dr. Cantley is “terrific as ever,” Mr. Meyer said, and then wholeheartedly endorsed the gift.

The Meyers are benefactors to many major New York institutions, but they conserved money from their family foundation to enable the $75 million gift, their largest ever. The rest is coming “out of pocket,” joked Mr. Meyer.

Making the gift feels “very, very good,” said Mr. Meyer. “I sort of walk around with my shoulders back a little further knowing that I’ve used the money I made, or a substantial portion of it, to a really good purpose. To something that makes me feel good and, maybe, will make a small contribution to people of future generations.”