Mercer University announced Tuesday the school has received one of its largest-ever anonymous donations that will endow a chair at the university’s School of Medicine.
Mercer President Bill Underwood said the anonymous $1.5 million donation was presented in December in honor of Rufus C. Harris, who served as Mercer’s 16th president from 1960 to 1979 and was instrumental in helping to create the medical school, which opened in 1982.
“Our medical school is committed to providing additional rural health services by providing primary care physicians to serve in these areas,” Underwood said. “Rufus Harris was president when plans for the medical school began.”
The Rufus Harris Chair will direct the medical school’s Center for Rural Heath and Health Disparities, which was established in 2008, according to a Mercer news release.
Underwood said the school would begin an immediate, national search to recruit someone for the position.
“We’re going to advertise for it immediately,” Underwood said. “It’s my hope that we’ll have someone in place by this upcoming fall.”
Underwood said the person hired for the position would be based in Macon and also would conduct research on how to improve rural medical health services.
“I think it’s going to be an important position,” he said. “It’s going to provide a real benefit to meet the mission of the medical school.”
Underwood wouldn’t give any clues to the identity of the donor other than to say it is someone who held Harris in high esteem. Harris, a Mercer graduate, served as professor and dean of Mercer’s Law School from 1923 to 1927. He then went to Tulane University as dean of the law school there before becoming Tulane’s president. Harris was elected Mercer president in November 1959.
“It was somebody who had tremendous respect for Rufus Harris and his legacy at Mercer,” he said. “It went back to Harris’ time as dean of the law school. (Harris) had a tremendous legacy at the university. He helped integrate Mercer in the early 1960s and was president during the effort to found the medical school. (Former Mercer President) Kirby Godsey was able to complete (opening the medical school) under his leadership.”
According to the news release, a recent study showed the Mercer School of Medicine is one of the most successful schools in the nation at producing physicians who practice in rural areas, shortage areas and low-income areas. The study ranked Mercer second in percentage of graduates who practice in low-income areas in Georgia.
To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.