Breast Cancer Survivor Launches Her Legacy

Ginny Clements Gives $8.5 Million to Fund Research Institute

By Mary Minor Davis

In advance of the 65th anniversary of her breast cancer diagnosis, Tucson businesswoman Ginny Clements has given $8.5 million to the University of Arizona Cancer Center.

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, the UArizona Cancer Center announced in a statement.

“I’m hoping that this institute will find several cures,” Clements said. “The UA Cancer Center has the No. 1 center with investigator-initiated breast cancer trials in the market.”

“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. “Breast cancer is an extraordinarily 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.”

Clements was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 15 in 1956. At that time, treatment was invasive. She underwent a radical mastectomy, removing the breast, chest muscles and lymph nodes under the arm. She was devastated, and while many people knew about her cancer, it was rarely spoken about in public. With the support of family and close friends, she got involved in school activities such as cheerleading and high school theater, which helped her move on with her life. 

At age 25, she met her husband, Bill Clements. They married in 1966, moved to Phoenix to help his father with a beer and distilled spirits business and then moved to Tucson in 1974 to start Golden Eagle Distributors, Inc. in Tucson and five areas throughout Arizona, distributing Anheuser-Busch, Inc.’s products. Bill died in 1995 from lung cancer – on the same day Ginny went for surgery to repair damage from seven reconstructive surgeries caused by the massive tissue extraction from her mastectomy. 

Clements went on to run Golden Eagle Distributors through growth and financial success until her retirement in 2003. Her children, Kimberly and Christopher, ran the business until it was sold to Hensley Beverage Company in 2016.

Clements has made numerous gifts to the UArizona Cancer Center. On the 50th anniversary of her diagnosis in 2006, she publicly spoke of her cancer experience for the first time when she announced the Ginny L. Clements Breast Cancer and Research Fund, established through the UA Foundation. 

To date, this fund has raised more than $1.6 million and has been instrumental in providing the center’s researchers with critical resources to initiate original investigations and expedite critical research. It has also led to testing promising medicines and therapeutic approaches in clinical trials designed to improve patient care. Clements has served on the center’s advisory board.

John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the UA Foundation, said Clements’ gifts have opened many opportunities to help cancer patients.

“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.

 “I’ve been thinking about this for the last year,” Clements said. “Since I got breast cancer at such a young age, I’ve always wanted to leave a legacy for those who are still suffering from breast cancer and those who have survived. I’m grateful I have the means to provide this gift.”

“My hope is that people, not only from the state of Arizona, but from other parts of the country, will want to make a donation to this institute, which will make such a difference to the research, but also donations in honor or in memory of someone.”

If you would like to donate to the Ginny L. Clements Breast Cancer Research Institute, please go to: www.give.uafoundation.org/cancer-center.

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