The Science of Support

One couple champions the importance of research to the St. Jude mission.

by Janice Hill

The science of support

Robert “Bob” and Mary Jane Engman received the Cardinal Stritch Donor of the Year Award from the ALSAC/St. Jude Boards of Directors and Governors last summer, but it was a gift they received after the award ceremony that they cherished most.

“On our way out of the door, a gentleman pushing his wife in a wheelchair stopped me,” Bob recalls. “He said, ‘You made it possible for us to have our daughter eight years longer than we would have.’”

The couple credited St. Jude with allowing their daughter to survive those extra years, and the Engmans for helping make that care possible. The gentleman removed his St. Jude tie and handed it to Bob as a gesture of appreciation. “It brought tears to our eyes,” Mary Jane says.

For nearly three decades, the Engmans have supported the hospital’s research and patient care. In 2000 they endowed the John Rodman Lectureship in Pharmaceutical Sciences and in 2010 made a generous gift naming the pharmacogenomics lab of William E. Evans, PharmD, St. Jude director and CEO, and Mary Relling, PharmD, Pharmaceutical Sciences chair.

The Engmans began supporting St. Jude in the early 1980s. “We were personally impressed by its reputation in care and that children can go there for free,” Mary Jane explains. Soon the hospital’s research also captured their interest and support.

An engineer and entrepreneur, Bob believes science is the answer to many issues that plague mankind. A few years ago he read two books that piqued his interest in biology, genetics and the value of DNA research to determine the causes and best treatment for diseases. “I became excited about the pharmacogenomics research taking place at St. Jude,” he says.

A graduate of the University of Utah, the same institution where Relling earned her doctorate, Bob began his career in the 1950s just as magnetic amplifiers and transistors were introduced, and he quickly became interested in their potential. In 1974 he founded Opto 22, which became the major supplier of liquid-filled, solid-state relays for large-frame computer disc drives. The company is now run by their son, Mark. Bob and Mary Jane also have two other children, Carrie and Elaine.

The couple first visited St. Jude in 2006. “We fell in love with the place, from the way children are treated to the amount of research that is being accomplished,” Bob recalls. “I am very impressed by the way St. Jude is run—it is a flat (non-hierarchal) organization where everyone speaks with everyone else. Doctors and patients eat together. That is the same way we ran our company.”

The Engmans recommend that everyone visit the hospital. Bob says, “You will immediately realize the value of science in alleviating suffering.”

Promise magazine, Winter 2011

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