James P. Wilmot’s Contributions To Cancer Research Earn Inspiration Award

April 10, 2006

James P. Wilmot

James P. Wilmot’s many contributions to cancer research will be recognized during the seventh annual Discovery Ball on Saturday, April 29, at the Rochester Riverside Convention Center. The event supports the James P. Wilmot Cancer Center at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

“There is no one in the Rochester area who has so strongly supported cancer research,” says James Ryan Jr., chair of the Wilmot Cancer Center Board. “His commitment to finding better cures for this disease is truly an inspiration to many.”

Mr. Wilmot, through The James P. Wilmot Foundation established upon his death in 1980, has contributed more than $25 million to support the training of cancer specialists and research into the disease that had such a profound affect on his family. He lost his wife, brother-in-law, a grandson and a brother to cancer. And his eldest son James died in 1986 after a long struggle with the disease.

The Wilmot family has continued to respond by establishing a legacy of support for the Cancer Center, which was renamed in Mr. Wilmot’s honor in 2000.

“It was my father’s wish to improve the research into cancer and find cures and he’s made that happen here in Rochester,” says Judy Wilmot Linehan, co-chair of the Wilmot Cancer Center’s Comprehensive Campaign. “His leadership has led our family to support the effort as well. But this is a disease that cannot be toppled by a single person, family, or institution. We all have to join together in support of this effort.”

About James P. Wilmot

Mr. Wilmot came from meager beginnings to build multimillion dollar aviation and construction businesses. He was a founder of Page Airways, a flight school, charter service and plane supplier, and later Wilmorite, a commercial and industrial development firm that built all of the major area malls.

He was very involved in politics and was a successful fund-raiser for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaigns. His circle of friends also included Vice President Hubert Humphrey, former Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, former New York Gov. Hugh Carey, U.S. Sens. Ernest Hollings, Daniel Inouye and Robert Kennedy.

Despite the many hours spent on his business dealings, which included his brothers and sons, and political dealings, Mr. Wilmot’s family remained his focal point. He enjoyed surrounding himself with his four children (James, William, Thomas and Judy), siblings, and relatives.

“He liked nothing better than to have the whole group around him,” said the late Rev. Charles Lavery during Mr. Wilmot’s funeral Mass. “The greatest monument he leaves is the great family spirit that his family possesses.”

Following his diagnosis with a brain tumor, Wilmot worked with his friend and physician Dr. Jacob Goldstein, to create The James P. Wilmot Foundation, which funds the Wilmot Cancer Research Fellowship Program.

The crux of the idea, still remaining today, was to foster medical scientists to pursue a career in cancer research. Mr. Wilmot and Dr. Goldstein felt strongly that the most promising avenue to find cures and treatments was in people – smart, young people. 

The proof of their concept is in the successes of the Wilmot Fellows and mentors for the last 25 years. To date, many of the 90 Wilmot Fellows have gone on to assume leading roles in academic and clinical positions around the world, having a profound impact on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer, which is exactly what he hoped for.

One Wilmot Fellow was instrumental in the development of the key component of the soon-to-be-approved vaccine to prevent infection with the human papilloma virus, the leading cause of cervical cancer. This vaccine has the potential to save the lives of a quarter-million women worldwide each year.

Certainly Mr. Wilmot would be proud to have played a role in this type of innovation and success at the Wilmot Cancer Center.

Discovery Ball

The Wilmot Cancer Center’s highest honor is the Inspiration Award, given to individuals who offer hope to people with cancer. Previous recipients include Syracuse University basketball coach Jim Boeheim, advocate Judy von Bucher, former Xerox CEO David Kearns, late Yankee and McQuaid baseball coach Michael Fennell, author Peter Teeley, retired U.S. Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, and figure skater Scott Hamilton.

The Discovery Ball is the Wilmot Cancer Center’s premier event, raising more than $3.5 million to support cancer care and research. This year, more than 1,200 people will attend. Gap Mangione and his Big Band will perform and Wegmans Food Markets will prepare a palate-pleasing buffet from its Patisserie gourmet confections.

In addition to the presentation of the Inspiration Award, there will be the annual sale of Discovery Bags, which include hundreds of dollars in merchandise and opportunities to win premium prizes. This year there will be 200 bags selling for $300 each.

Tickets for the event are $200 per person and table sponsorships are available at a number of levels. For more information about attending or supporting the Discovery Ball, contact Kim Ziegler, assistant director for special events, at (585) 242-8988 or kziegler@admin.rochester.edu.

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Leslie White
(585) 273-1119
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