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Gala honors Simmonses, launches Health & Biosciences Center



Houston philanthropists L.E. and Virginia Simmons received the 2015 James A. Baker III Prize for Excellence in Leadership from Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy April 10 during a gala dinner. More than 330 friends and supporters of the institute gathered to honor the Simmonses at the gala, which also marked the establishment of a new Center for Health and Biosciences at the Baker Institute and raised more than $740,000 for the center's research and programs. 

In remarks prior to the award presentation, James A. Baker, III, former secretary of state and the Baker Institute's honorary chair, said the Simmonses represent the very best of American leadership in word and deed. "Their lives reflect the time-honored qualities of trustworthiness, loyalty, kindness, reverence and so much more," he said. "Without fanfare, these two dedicate themselves to building a better world by improving health care, education, the beauty of our city and the other issues about which they care so passionately. They have quietly become one of the most generous couples in Houston’s philanthropic community — giving untold millions to charities that benefit us all."

As an MBA graduate of Harvard University, L.E. Simmons is one of the nation’s foremost private equity investors in oil service companies. Virginia Simmons, a graduate of Louisiana State University, gives her time freely to causes such as Reasoning Mind, Trees for Houston and the Rice University Shepherd School of Music. Together they sponsor the L.E. and Virginia Simmons Family Foundation Collaborative Research Fund, which supports novel solutions to difficult medical problems through the combined expertise of scientists at Rice University, Texas Children’s Hospital and The Methodist Research Hospital. Through his involvement with these and other medical institutions, “I’ve been able to realize a passion that goes back to when I was a young teenager: a deep love for medicine and science,” said L.E. Simmons. “The great thing about life is that you can pursue a career and still have these passions that are in you. It’s like a seed that grows over the years. Helping to support medical research has really enriched my life as well as Ginny's." 

The Baker Institute’s new Center for Health and Biosciences is an innovative research collaborative that will serve as a meeting point for health policy experts in the Texas Medical Center and around the country as well as physicians and scientists interested in the public policy component to their work, said Baker Institute founding director Ambassador Edward P. Djerejian. "The center will bring together our distinguished health and science team — including Dr. Vivian Ho, Dr. John Mendelsohn, Dr. Peter Hotez, Dr. Kirstin Matthews, Dr. Hagop Kantarjian and Dr. Deepak Srivastava — and provide them with the research assistants and logistical support to pursue a wider agenda as they address national and global health concerns, including the cost of health care, policy issues related to cancer treatment and care, biomedical research policy and neglected tropical diseases."

Ambassador Djerejian said the establishment of the institute's fourth policy center, alongside the Center for Energy Studies, the Mexico Center and the Center for the Middle East, is particularly important because the institute has a comparative advantage due to its location next door to the world’s largest medical complex, the Texas Medical Center.

The Center for Health and Biosciences will soon launch multiple programs, such as Making Insurance Affordable for Workers, Coordinating Patient Advocates and Regulators to Improve the FDA Approval Process, and Innovation and Affordability in Cancer Care. Ho, the James A. Baker III Institute Chair in Health Economics, has been named the center’s director.

The gala was co-chaired by Isabel and Danny David and Beth Madison, who did “an outstanding job,” Ambassador Djerejian said. “I thank them warmly on behalf of the Baker Institute, as I do all of the donors for their generous support.”

The evening also featured a conversation with the Simmonses, moderated by the ambassador, which touched on topics such as leadership, the importance of collaboration and the couple’s interest in health- and education-related philanthropy. “It’s probably our nature that we want to be measured by the things we do, not by the things we say,” said L.E. Simmons. “At the end of the day, people look back on what you did, how you behaved and how you lived your life. We’ve been fortunate to have great friends, great examples and great parents to point us in the right direction.”

The James A. Baker III Prize for Excellence in Leadership recognizes nationally and internationally renowned individuals for outstanding achievements in government, business, science, education or philanthropy. The prize is awarded to those who exemplify the vision of building “a bridge between the world of ideas and the world of action” and was conceived by Baker when he established the Baker Institute in 1993. Recipients embody the institute’s mission to nurture the ties between academia, government and the private sector. Past recipients include Hushang Ansary (2013), Robert McNair (2009), retired Gen. Colin Powell (2007) and Charles Duncan (2006).