A breast cancer survivor and longtime supporter of the University of Arizona has given $8.5 million to the UArizona Cancer Center to strengthen the center’s breast cancer patient care and research programs.
Ginny L. Clements made the gift in advance of the 65th anniversary of her breast cancer diagnosis; Clements was diagnosed in April 1956 at the age of 15. The gift establishes an endowment for the Ginny L. Clements Breast Cancer Research Institute and will fund a new endowed director’s chair, two professorships, startup packages for those professors, and lab renovations.
“Ginny has been a long-standing and incredible partner to the University of Arizona, and her dedication to the Cancer Center has been particularly inspiring,” said University of Arizona President Dr. Robert C. Robbins. “Our internationally recognized Center is renowned for its comprehensive cancer research and clinical care, and Ginny’s transformative generosity will enhance these efforts. It is only fitting the new Breast Cancer Research Institute will bear the name of such an outstanding community leader, and I am excited for what this institute will mean for breast cancer research, which, according to the American Cancer Society, has the highest incidence of any cancer for women in Arizona. I am deeply grateful to Ginny for everything she does for the university.”
“Ginny is a tireless supporter of the Cancer Center and the entire University of Arizona, said Dr. Michael D. Dake, senior vice president for UArizona Health Sciences. “She is absolutely dedicated to supporting the effort to prevent, treat and cure the many forms of breast cancer. This generous and strategic gift will allow our center to establish an institute in her name, exclusively focused on breast cancer, a critical health threat. We can’t thank Ginny enough for her amazing generosity, which now allows our physicians and scientists to better fulfill our mission to improve the health and lives of all Arizonans.”
“This incredibly generous gift will help produce bold research and provide the best breast cancer care to our patients,” said Joann Sweasy, UArizona Cancer Center director, who holds the Nancy C. and Craig M. Berge Endowed Chair. “Breast cancer is a very complex set of diseases and we plan to recruit the finest clinician-scientists, basic scientists and top experts in breast cancer research so they can work together at our center. This collaborative approach will lead to novel discoveries and cutting-edge treatments that will have a direct and positive impact for patients across Arizona and well beyond.”
“I was 15 years old when I had breast cancer, in 1956,” Clements said. “Who thinks about breast cancer when you are a teenager? I sure didn’t. Losing my breast at such a very young age is probably the most traumatic experience that I have endured. I know now that there was a reason for my tragedy, and I have persevered. Here I am today, doing something that I feel is going to help those who are fighting the fight, those who are survivors and even those who weren’t so fortunate. I know my gift will make a difference in breast cancer research and leave a living legacy.”
Clements, a California native, moved to Tucson with her family in 1974. She and her husband, Bill Clements, started Golden Eagle Distributors, the local distributor of Anheuser-Busch products. In 1995, she lost her husband to lung cancer. Clements took over the company and led a period of record sales and expansion until her retirement from daily business operations in 2003. Golden Eagle was one of the largest privately held businesses in Arizona when it was sold in 2016 to Hensley Beverage Co.
Clements has made other major gifts to the university. To mark the 50th anniversary of her diagnosis in 2006, she created the Ginny L. Clements Breast Cancer Research Fund. Until that time, she hadn’t spoken publicly about her experience, but she chose to do so then in order to inspire other women diagnosed with breast cancer. The legacy fund has been instrumental in providing the center’s researchers critical resources to initiate original investigations and expedite critical research. This results in the ability to test promising medicines and therapeutic approaches in clinical trials designed to improve patient care. Clements also has served on the center’s advisory board.
Her latest gift builds on an extraordinary legacy of generosity that has advanced the university considerably, said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation.
“Ginny’s giving has truly changed the University of Arizona’s capacity to serve. I’m gratified to know her name will forever be associated with this leading-edge institute and with this cause so close to her heart,” said Roczniak.
The Cancer Center has a comprehensive approach to breast cancer research and treatment. Research promotes the translational development of basic science through the engagement of shared resources and other programs within the center. The center’s multidisciplinary breast cancer research disease team is accredited by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers, which involves meeting a rigorous set of standards to assure the highest quality care for patients.
“The vision we have is for our center to be an international destination center for breast cancer treatment and research,” Sweasy said. “We are doing a really great job right now, but the Ginny L. Clements Breast Cancer Research Institute is going to take us beyond what we have already done. It is going to allow us to do something very bold.”