Volunteer Spotlight

Cece and Ford Lacy, Founders of the President’s Research Council

Couple’s 30-year effort created a mainstay of UT Southwestern’s community engagement

Ford Lacy and his wife, Cece, are a dynamic duo. When it comes to their involvement with UT Southwestern Medical Center, the pair are bound at the philanthropic hip.

Cece and Ford Lacy
Cece and Ford Lacy Provided by Ford Lacy

More than 30 years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Lacy led the way in creating the President’s Research Council. Envisioned as an organization for those who shared a passion for learning about UT Southwestern’s advances in medical research, today the Council organizes four annual programs that feature faculty who are driving research breakthroughs at the Medical Center.

The couple has remained committed to maintaining the Council’s position as the institution’s first philanthropic organization. Over the course of three decades, they’ve been instrumental in helping the group raise more than $3.8 million in faculty funding.

Through annual membership gifts, President’s Research Council members support two annual Distinguished Early Career Researcher Awards, which further the innovative research of early career faculty. Designed to fill a gap when federal grants are difficult to obtain, past award recipients have included researchers in specialties ranging from radiation oncology and molecular genetics to neurology and dermatology.

Under the Lacys' leadership, the President’s Research Council also created the Kern and Marnie Wildenthal President’s Research Council Professorship in Medical Science, which is bestowed on a past winner of the Distinguished Early Career Researcher Award.

A former partner with the prestigious international law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, Mr. Lacy focused his practice on private equity investing and mergers and acquisitions. Mrs. Lacy is Co-Founder and retired Managing General Partner of Phillips-Smith-Machens Venture Partners, a venture capital firm specializing in retail and consumer businesses.

Cece Lacy
Cece Lacy speaks with UT Southwestern President Daniel K. Podolsky, M.D., during the President's Research Council awards dinner on May 14, 2019, at UT Southwestern. TJ Maher/UT Southwestern Medical Center

Reflecting on their decades-long commitment to the President’s Research Council, Mr. and Mrs. Lacy shared how the organization began, grew, and strengthened their philanthropic bond with UT Southwestern.

What motivated you to start the President’s Research Council?

We attended a lecture in 1983 where Joe Goldstein and Michael Brown explained their research efforts. At that time, they were not well known, and we were very impressed with their work. We also felt that very few people in Dallas were aware that research of this quality was being done at UT Southwestern. As a result, we proposed to Dr. Charles Sprague, the President of UT Southwestern at that time, that we wished to form a group to support research efforts at UT Southwestern, and which would provide financial support and help get the word out to the Dallas community about the high quality of research work which was being done at UT Southwestern. After some time, Dr. Sprague agreed, and we got started in around 1985.

How has the President’s Research Council impacted you?

Our involvement has resulted in our learning more about the research effort at UT Southwestern and learning more about medical science generally. The PRC is still one of our favorite activities and the programs go on our calendars each year before anything else. In addition, we have met many wonderful people, including leadership, faculty, and staff, who have become friends.

Ford Lacy
Ford Lacy listens during a President’s Research Council event at UT Southwestern on May 3, 2017. David Gresham/UT Southwestern Medical Center

How has the Council distinguished UT Southwestern?

The PRC has remained fairly true to its original structure. We continue to have four meetings a year where a prominent UT Southwestern researcher presents a report on his or her research efforts, as well as a dinner meeting where we announce the recipient of our Distinguished Researcher Awards and hear a report on the research efforts of the prior year’s recipients. We started by asking 10 of our friends to join us. Many of them are still members. The organization has grown to 217 members, and the funds raised from membership gifts have allowed us to increase from one annual award of $40,000 to two awards totaling $150,000. From time to time, representatives of other institutions have come to meet with us to discuss whether something similar can be developed at their institution.

What have you learned about UT Southwestern?

Over a period of about 35 years, we have probably heard from more than 175 speakers who have described their research activities. They do a wonderful job of explaining their research in terms we can understand while dramatically expanding our knowledge of medical research. Furthermore, Dr. Alfred Gilman once told us that, for many of our speakers, speaking to the PRC was their first speech about their research to a lay audience and that they were terrified. He said that it was great training for them to learn how to do that.

Cece and Ford Lacy
Cece and Ford Lacy Provided by Ford Lacy

What has been your most memorable experience with the President’s Research Council?

[Mr. Lacy:] I can think of one in particular: at a dinner in a private home honoring one of the discoverers of DNA, I was seated at a table for four with two or three Nobel Laureates. During the dinner conversation, they asked what I did, and I mentioned that one of my activities as a lawyer involved clients making takeover bids for companies. That was an activity that was much in the papers in those days, so they all wanted me to explain it to them.

[Mrs. Lacy:] I love the Annual Dinner. We now have over 200 people attending and each table is hosted by a prominent faculty member or department head. When people arrive, they sign up for the table they wish to sit at. It has gotten so popular that many people arrive half an hour early in order to have a shot at the table they want.

Why was it important for philanthropy to be part of the President’s Research Council’s mission?

The PRC has always had a philanthropic aspect. We started by asking members to make an annual gift. We used the membership gifts to create an award for distinguished beginning researchers to help them finance their research. There is never enough money for beginning researchers. They are too early in their careers to get grants from the National Institutes of Health or similar organizations. So, we look at these awards as being venture capital to get them started. One awardee told us that the first thing she did with her money was buy a broom to clean out her newly assigned lab. Over the period that the PRC has existed, it has supported over 50 researchers, many of whom have gone on to do very significant research.

What has been the organization’s greatest contribution to the community?

The biggest contribution has been encouraging beginning researchers and helping them get started in their research work. We also know that as the group has grown, our members talk about UT Southwestern and the impact of the research they are hearing about, which helps to enhance the reputation of UT Southwestern in the community. In addition, many of our members have gone on to be substantial donors to other programs at UT Southwestern.

Cece and Ford Lacy
Ford Lacy, left, and his wife, Cece, speak during the President’s Research Council awards dinner at UT Southwestern on May 12, 2015. David Gresham/UT Southwestern Medical Center

Years ago, Dr. Podolsky foresaw the need for a public health response to diseases like COVID-19. This resulted in the Texas legislature voting to fund a new School of Public Health at UT Southwestern in May. Also, the leadership of the Medical Center has recently decided to focus on the frontier area of the brain with the Peter O’Donnell Jr. Brain Institute.

In order to better serve the community, UT Southwestern works with other partners like Texas Health Resources and The University of Texas at Dallas. UT Southwestern’s concern for underserved areas has recently led to an expansion to provide medical services to South Dallas.

  • Dr. Brown holds the W.A. (Monty) Moncrief Distinguished Chair in Cholesterol and Arteriosclerosis Research.
  • Dr. Goldstein holds the Julie and Louis A. Beecherl, Jr. Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Research and the Paul J. Thomas Chair in Medicine.
  • Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.