By Tom Leyde
In late fall of 2020, scientist Carol Gregorio attended a dinner party. There were more people there than she expected and there was a wrapped package on the table.
When she asked what was going on, Czarina M. Lopez told her, “We missed your birthday,” Gregorio recalled. She told the group her birthday is in June.
“Just open the box,” Lopez said.
Gregorio opened the box. Inside was a white lab coat with her name on it and the surprising news that she was the recipient of the inaugural endowed chair for excellence in cardiovascular research at the University of Arizona’s Sarver Heart Center. The center is part of UArizona’s College of Medicine.
The $2 million gift was part of a $3.5 million endowment for two chairs at UArizona from community leaders Humberto and Czarina Lopez. The other gift $1.5 million established the Dhaliwal-HSLopez Chair in Accounting at the Eller College of Management. It is in honor of Dan Dhaliwal, a 1977 alumnus who was head of the accounting department from 1996 until his death in 2016.
The Lopezes are longtime UArizona supporters and volunteers. Humberto Lopez is a UArizona graduate, a CPA and founder of HSL Properties, real estate development and property management firm. He was instrumental in the creation of the Sarver Heart Center.
Gregorio said receiving the endowed chair “was the biggest surprise of my life. Apparently a lot of people knew about this and nobody told me. It’s amazing. They (the Lopezes) just really want to make a difference, and I’m not going to disappoint them. It’s such an honor, it’s such an honor, and you could say I’m speechless still.”
“We trust Carol will put the money to good use and help people with problems related to heart disease, which has affected us,” Humberto Lopez said in a university news release. Czarina Lopez received a kidney and heart transplant. “Carol is capable and highly thought of. This addition will help advance her research. We expect her to do great things.”
A 25-year UArizona employee, Gregorio has a doctorate degree in molecular immunology. She does research in cardiac muscle biology and cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood to the rest of the body. This can lead to heart failure.
“I try to understand how a mutation results in disease and the primary cause that leads to disease,” Gregorio said. “What I want to know is how do you go from that mutation to the problem” and then studying the problem in reverse.
The $2 million endowment will be invested and Gregorio will use the interest about $80,000 a year to further her research. She said the endowed chair will enable her and her team to do research much quicker.
Gregorio is co-director of Sarver Heart Center and also directs its program on molecular cardio research.
“Endowed chairs are a wonderful way to provide our most talented with funding to do new and creative ideas,” said Dr. Nancy Sweitzer, Sarver Heart Center director, a professor of medicine and chief of cardiology at the UArizona College of Medicine.
In contrast, attempts to gain national funding stifles innovation, she said, since awards gravitate to research with a high chance for success “An endowed chair is really important for people like Dr. Gregorio,” she said. “That’s where breakthroughs come from. It’s important for them to pursue creative ideas.”
“They (the Lopezes) couldn’t have picked a better person (for the endowed chair recipient),” Sweitzer said of Gregorio. “She’s an incredibly successful scientist. She’s pursuing the latest and most interesting discoveries in molecular cardiology. She’s just a really great thinker.”
At the Eller College of Management, Dean Paulo Goes said the college expects to name the recipient of its new endowed chair in September.
Dan Dhaliwal was an outstanding accounting professor, Goes said. “He was very well known in the accounting research field in the area of tax accounting.”
Goes said the endowed chair is special to him because of Dhaliwal’s reputation as a department head. “He was very interested in helping people around him. He was a great mentor. He helped me personally when I first moved to the University of Arizona,” he said.
Humberto Lopez and Dhaliwal got to know each other, and the endowed chair is “the perfect combination of legacies,” Goes said. It “will create a chance for us to honor a great researcher.”