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School of Medicine

Making history again

By Nan L. Johnson

Something special happened to Harry A. “Bert” Wellons Jr., M ’61, at the corner of 12th and Marshall Streets in 1961. He was having lunch at the Skull and Bones Restaurant when he saw Florence Lee Daniel for the first time. He “very distinctly” remembers seeing her, even what she was wearing. Though she doesn’t recall meeting him that day at the Skull and Bones, something special must have happened to Florence Lee as well. Just six days after Bert graduated from MCV, the two were married.           

At the time, Florence Lee was working on a child development research project with H. Hudnall Ware Jr., M’24, MCV Chairman of the Department of Obstetrics. Bert was a young medical student who would soon graduate, complete his training, and begin a fulfilling career as a thoracic and cardiovascular surgeon and professor.

After his residency in Surgery at UNC and two years in the US Army Medical Corp, he completed a fellowship at UVA. Following 12 years as a Professor of Surgery at UVA, he went into private practice in Springfield, Illinois where he was also Clinical Professor of Surgery at SIU School of Medicine. In 2000, he returned to the faculty at UVA, retiring in 2008.

No doubt Bert and Florence Lee’s 49-year history has roots at the corner of 12th and Marshall Streets. So it’s fitting that the two are now playing a critical role in the future of this landmark MCV crossroads through their generous $1 million gift toward the design and construction of the School of Medicine’s new educational facility due to open in 2013. The new education building is part of the largest capital campaign in the school’s history. It is the first time that alumni and friends have been asked to financially support a capital construction campaign.

“It’s wonderfully gratifying to have such a strong leadership gift as we launch the campaign. Bert and Florence Lee’s generosity is an endorsement of our school’s vision, and an encouragement to other alumni to follow their example,” says Jerome F. Strauss III, M.D., Ph.D., Dean of the School of Medicine. “Completion of this building project, which will bring our innovations in medical education to life, will be among the most important milestones in the history of the School of Medicine. It will have a profound and far-reaching influence on generations of physicians. Because of that, I am personally grateful to Bert and Florence Lee for stepping forward in such a generous fashion and laying the foundation for our success.”

Designed by I. M. Pei’s internationally acclaimed architectural firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, known for its design of the East Wing of the National Gallery and the Louvre Pyramid, among others, the new educational building pays homage to the former site of the A.D. Williams Clinic while serving as a beacon for the future of medical education. It features environmentally sustainable design strategies and the relocation of original artwork created for the Clinic in the 1930s.

Architecture as art may be as much a part of the Pei Cobb Freed & Partner’s design approach as creative expression is a part of the Wellons’ daily lives. Nestled in the rolling hills near Charlottesville is Danwell Farm, their working cattle farm whose name is a clever combination of their last names. The home sits atop a manicured knoll with stunning vistas of hills, pastures and ever-changing skies. The couple’s architect designed a clapboard farmhouse, an elegantly understated contemporary home where light pours through undressed windows and pieces of art reflect their strong interest in glass, sculpture, and paintings.

With their appreciation of art and architecture and their support of Dean Strauss’ leadership of the School of Medicine, it’s no wonder the Wellons were drawn to such a monumental and significant project. “It’s a cutting edge building for a cutting edge vision,” says Florence Lee, who majored in Art History at Mary Baldwin College.

“The Dean reached out to us.” Bert explains. “In doing so, I saw his vision and where it’s going. That’s important to me. We like what we’ve seen. That’s a reason to support the medical school.”

The new building is a vital element in the school’s plans to update its curriculum to incorporate active learning, case-based lectures, and small group studies. The 200,000 square foot facility will also provide expanded space for clinical skills training. The growing use of simulation has the potential to increase the quality of patient care as students and residents spend time honing their skills in a controlled setting. As a pilot, Bert knows the importance of spending time in simulation labs.

“MCV was a good experience for me,” he says. “I received an excellent education and started a profession that was exciting, challenging and one that I truly loved! I have MCV to thank for the start of my medical career and I would encourage my classmates to show appreciation for the opportunities we had there if they are financially able to do so.”

The Class of 1961 has a history-making opportunity to follow Bert and Florence Lee Wellons’ lead as their 50th Reunion approaches. “I think the world of Bert,” says classmate Wyatt S. Beazley III, M.D., M’61. “He was a very kind, very considerate and very thoughtful person who you could always count on. My hope is that our class can make a significant matching gift to this building project. You know, if you look back, the school gave us the tools that we needed not only to change the lives of our patients, but to have a great career. If it had not been for the School of Medicine, most of us would not be in the position we’re in now.”

And if it hadn’t been for the Skull and Bones at the crossroads of MCV, a lot of things may be different today. “1961 was a pivotal year in many ways,” Dr. Wellons explains. “Florence Lee and I met and married. The rest is history.” And it all started at the corner of 12th and Marshall.

The new School of Medicine education hub

Facts at a glance

What
A new 200,000 square-foot, 12-story, state-of-the-art education and training hub designed by Pei-Cobb-Freed and built to house a transformed curriculum and:

  • Accommodate a growing student body
  • Incorporate areas for active learning, case-based lectures and small group study
  • Devote two floors to the Center for Human Simulation and Patient Safety
  • Feature a 260-seat auditorium outfitted with cameras, network jacks, microphones, and television monitors
  • Provide approximately 50,000 square feet of space to cancer research
  • Set a new standard in medical education

Why
The new medical education and training hub is a top priority for the university because:

  • Of the growing shortage of physicians across the nation – by 2020 there will be a shortage of approximately 1,500 physicians in the Commonwealth of Virginia alone and the demand for more frequent doctor’s visits among the aging population will exacerbate the challenge of adequate health care access for all
  • Maintaining a personalized, close-knit experience is critical to promoting students’ engagement in the learning process as the School of Medicine adapts to a growing student body
  • The existing facility (A.D. Williams Clinic) cannot accommodate an increased class size or the need for small group, team-based learning as required by the new curriculum
  • Built in the 1930s, the existing facility suffers from serious physical deficiencies including the lack of a fire suppression system

When
A.D. Williams Clinic demolition:  June 2010
Construction begins: October 2010
Occupancy: Spring 2013
(All dates are approximate)


Where
On the site of the former A. D. Williams Clinic at the corner of 12th and Marshall Streets


How

Through a funding partnership
State support $70 million
Health system and university funds $51.6 million
Private gifts $37 million
Total $158.6 million