$55 million gift to benefit athletics, Alzheimer’s research from Harrison family

The family of David and Mary Harrison, two of the University of Virginia’s most generous benefactors, has made a pair of commitments totaling $55 million to the Olympic Sports Center in the Department of Athletics and to create a leading-edge translational research program dedicated to the next generation of therapies for Alzheimer’s and related diseases.

The Harrison Family Translational Research Center in Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases will be housed in the new Paul and Diane Manning Institute of Biotechnology. The Harrison Family Olympic Sports Center, scheduled to open in the summer of 2025, will be centrally located in the athletics precinct and will feature a performance training center, strength and conditioning facilities, tutoring and academic support spaces, and a hall of champions.

The $25 million for the sports center comes from the Harrison Foundation, while $30 million for the research center is provided by the Harrison Foundation and the Mary Anderson Harrison Foundation. Naming for the centers is pending approval by the Board of Visitors.

UVA President Jim Ryan announced the gift during the Thursday meeting of the Board of Visitors.

“The Harrison family’s incredibly generous commitments will provide robust support for UVA students and faculty and will help foster and coordinate important work on neurodegenerative disease,” Ryan said. “I’m deeply grateful to the Harrisons for their decades of giving to UVA and for their investments in key areas of the strategic plan. The impact of their giving will be felt on Grounds for generations to come.”

Speaking on behalf of the family, Marjorie Harrison Webb, president of the Harrison Foundation, said: “We are pleased to lend our support to two areas of the University that will increase opportunities for students and faculty to thrive. Student-athletes embody the full promise of a UVA education, while a research center devoted to the understanding and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases will allow UVA researchers to lead the way in the fight against these devastating illnesses.”

The gift creating the research center will allow UVA to develop a national research program in Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Within the University’s research ecosystem, the center will create a nexus between the UVA Brain Institute, which encompasses all neurological research at the University, and the Manning Institute of Biotechnology, which will translate fundamental discoveries in health science into therapies for a broad range of illnesses.

The center’s aim is to enable physicians and scientists in the fields of Alzheimer’s, other dementias and neurodegenerative disorders to make their translational discoveries at UVA for the benefit of patients and families. The Harrison family’s gift will create the building blocks for this new research program by supplying support for faculty and other researchers and building out a collaborative research environment.

The three-fold plan includes $5 million to create the Harrison Family University Professorship in Neuroscience, which will enable the president, provost and CEO of UVA Health to recruit a preeminent scholar to lead the center. This portion of the funding is eligible for a dollar-for-dollar match from the University’s Bicentennial Professorships Fund for a total potential impact of $10 million.

An additional $5 million will go toward support for an additional endowed chair – the Harrison Family Professorship in Neurodegenerative Diseases – and postdoctoral fellows, staff and research support. Naming for the endowed chairs is pending approval by the Board.

Finally, $20 million of the gift will create a dedicated space for the research center within the Manning Institute building. Construction for this 350,000-square-foot research facility began in December 2023. By concentrating expertise across several disciplines, connecting UVA’s current investigators with new recruits to broaden research capacity and channeling discoveries into new translational therapies, the new space within the Manning Institute will enable UVA to expand the size and breadth of its program in the field of neurodegenerative diseases and raise its national profile.

“The Harrison family’s generous contribution underscores the importance of the neurosciences as an area of focus within the Paul and Diane Manning Institute of Biotechnology,” said Dr. K. Craig Kent, CEO of UVA Health and executive vice president for health affairs at UVA. “This funding enables UVA to continue to assemble a world-class team of researchers primed to deliver transformative breakthroughs in the neuroscience fields with advancements that will offer hope to millions of families impacted by Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.”

The Virginia Athletics Master Plan encompasses a new complex that includes a Football Operations Center, the McCue Center renovation and an Olympic Sports Center that will provide support to more than 750 student-athletes, including UVA’s field hockey, cross country, track and field, lacrosse, rowing and soccer programs. It also includes the Center for Citizen Leaders and Sports Ethics, an initiative launched by Carla Williams, UVA’s athletics director and vice president for intercollegiate athletics, after she arrived at UVA in 2017.

“For decades, the generosity of the Harrison family has helped to shape the foundation and development of Virginia athletics,” Williams said. “Beginning with David A. Harrison III’s connection to and great affinity for Virginia football and carrying forward to this transformative gift that will benefit the entire sports program, we are extremely grateful for the Harrison family’s profound commitment to the University of Virginia. This gift ensures their legacy will continue to impact the University and Virginia Athletics for many generations.”

The Harrison family has a longstanding legacy of giving to the University. David Harrison was a lawyer, investment banker and farmer who earned his bachelor’s degree from the University in 1939 and his law degree in 1941. Harrison and his wife, Mary Anderson, directed their giving to many areas across the University – including the schools of Law and Medicine, the College and Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and the University Library – during their lifetimes.

The couple’s giving has supported a wide range of professorships, scholarships and buildings at the University, including a gift to the library to create the Mary and David Harrison Institute of American History, Literature, and Culture. In addition, the Harrison Foundation provided most of the funding for the Harrison-Wood Professorship in Neurology at the Jefferson Scholars Foundation, created the Harrison Undergraduate Research Awards in the College, and created the David and Mary Harrison Distinguished Professorships of Law in the School of Law. Harrison Field at Scott Stadium and the Law School grounds are also named for David Harrison.

Through their family foundations, the Harrison children and grandchildren continue to direct a portion of David Harrison’s estate funds to support the University and other areas of interest within education, health and human services nationwide.

Photo: Marjorie Harrison Webb, left, and her daughter Marjorie Webb Childress. Courtesy of the family.

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