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  • Writer's pictureAri Betof

$110 Million Gift from Eccles Foundations to Address Shortage of Doctors

Updated: Sep 8, 2021

In a nod to First Security’s promise to give 110 percent effort for its customers, the family behind the Utah banking company has donated $110 million to the University of Utah’s Medical School. The money is a gift from two family foundations: the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Foundation and the Nora Eccles Treadwell Foundation.

The Nora Eccles Treadwell Foundation focuses on medical research. The George Eccles’ foundation has donated to a diverse mix of Utah organizations, including the organizing committee for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, the Utah Food Bank, and the Nature Conservancy in Utah.

Their most recent combined gift is made up of a $30 million new home for the university’s 60-year-old medical school in Salt Lake City; a $40 million endowment for scholarships, faculty recruitment, and program development; and $40 million for research in heart disease and cardiovascular science.

University President Emerita Ruth Watkins described the donation as “truly transformational.” She said university leaders had approached the Eccles family with a “bold” request for support and the family decided to exceed it.

The Eccles Family Connection to Utah

When an impoverished Scottish family named Eccles converted to Mormonism back in the 1860s, they received a $375 loan from the church to immigrate to America. Arriving by train in St. Louis in 1863 on the day of the Battle of Gettysburg, they completed their journey to Utah on foot.

David Eccles, one of the sons, went on to become a successful industrialist in Ogden, Utah, and left a fortune equivalent to $190 million in today’s dollars. His sons, Marriner and George Eccles, formed the Salt Lake City-based bank First Security Corporation in 1928. Marriner later served as chair of the Federal Reserve from 1934 to 1948, appointed by Franklin Roosevelt. And when George died in 1982, Spencer Fox Eccles took the place of his uncles. He headed the firm until 2000, when Wells Fargo acquired it for $2.9 billion.

Spencer F. Eccles, a graduate of the University of Utah, earned his MBA from Columbia Business School. Now 86, he is chairman and CEO of George’s foundation and serves for four of the six other Eccles family foundations. Formed in the 1970s, the seven foundations have given a combined $1.25 billion over the past 50 years.

50 Years of Support for the University of Utah

The timing of the family's latest gift to the university comes precisely 50 years after the opening of the Spencer S. Eccles Health Sciences Library. The library was funded by the family and named for Spencer F. Eccles’ father and has been followed by further support of the health sciences. The university also boasts the David Eccles School of Business and a Rice-Eccles football stadium. And the new medical school will be named the Spencer F. Eccles School of Medicine.

The Impact of the Eccles’ Gift

The shortage of doctors in Utah, especially the rural areas, has long been a problem. In 2015, the average age of Utah physicians was 53 years old—and they are retiring faster than they’re being replaced.

The University of Utah is the only academic medical center in the Intermountain West. As such, it provides patient care for roughly 10 percent of the continental United States geographically. With the state’s population expected to expand substantially over the next 50 years, the problem will only exacerbate unless more physicians are produced.

Currently, the university can only take 125 students, but the new medical school is being built to handle more. State lawmakers will have to approve any increase in student numbers, and the school’s accreditors must be satisfied. Dr. Michael L. Good, interim president of the University of Utah and the executive dean of the medical school, says the Eccles gift is definitely intended to increase the medical student intake, but that changes will be gradually implemented.

Describing himself as a “Utah man,” Eccles says he has a love affair with the state, extending to the university where he met his late wife. But he believes a state can only be truly great if it has a world-class medical center. He is excited that his family’s gift will assist in its creation. And that the scholarships provided by the $40 million endowment will start students off on the right foot—without building up debt.

Good explains that state funds keep the institute running, but it’s private gifts like that of the Eccles’ that present the opportunity to provide students with the most advanced education. He looks forward to the university joining the ranks of America’s preeminent institutions and producing a new generation of physicians and health care professionals that will improve Utah’s state of health.

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