Volunteer Spotlight

Grace Cook on Organizing The Cary Council's Signature Event During a Pandemic

Third generation philanthropist continues her family's legacy of engagement with UT Southwestern

For decades, the names Margaret and Eugene McDermott have been synonymous with generosity towards UT Southwestern Medical Center.

No one is more aware of that impact than their granddaughter, Grace Cook. Ms. Cook, whose mother, Mary McDermott Cook, is the Eugene McDermott Foundation’s President and a Southwestern Medical Foundation Trustee, is at the vanguard of a new generation engaging with the Medical Center through The Cary Council, a philanthropic organization created in partnership with Southwestern Medical Foundation to support early-stage research at UT Southwestern.

Grace Cook
Grace Cook Mei-Chun Jau/UT Soutwestern Medical Center

As a founding member of the organization's Steering Committee, Ms. Cook has led membership recruitment and communications for the organization and now serves as volunteer Co-Chair. Previously, she led planning efforts as Co-Chair of the group's signature annual event, An Evening with DocStars, which raises funds to support UT Southwestern physician-scientists working on promising early-stage biomedical research. Members refer to these researchers as “DocStars” and have awarded a total of $600,000 to support their innovative work.

Hosting the high-profile event would be challenging under normal circumstances, but public health constraints in response to the pandemic added new demands. Ms. Cook and Co-Chair Alexandra Kahn successfully led the organization’s pivot to provide a safe and socially-distanced drive-thru event experience.

Reflecting on her work with The Cary Council, Ms. Cook shared why she embraces her family’s generational support of UT Southwestern.

How has UT Southwestern impacted you and your family?

UT Southwestern Medical Center has been a mainstay in my family for generations and mended my broken leg. Over the years, we have cultivated deep, personal relationships with many of the physicians and leaders at UT Southwestern. Having close ties to a first-class medical center right in my backyard has been incredibly beneficial to my health as well as the health of my family and friends. It has also influenced the philanthropic work I love and pursue.

Grace Cook and Margaret McDermott
Grace Cook kisses her grandmother, Margaret McDermott, on the cheek at Mrs. McDermott's home in 1991. Provided by Grace Cook
Grace Cook and Margaret McDermott
Margaret McDermott, right, embraces Grace Cook at Moss Mountain Farm in 2014. Provided by Grace Cook

What distinguishes this institution as a leader in academic medicine?

The fact that our doctors are at the cutting-edge of medicine, able to implement therapies they may have worked on or developed, is something that has always amazed me. Things like this keep UT Southwestern at the forefront of academic medicine. I am constantly impressed by the work that goes on during both the research and implementation stages; the recruitment of pioneers in research to UTSW both nationally and internationally; and the collaborative efforts underway to continue driving forward impactful and novel improvements for the world of health care.

What do you find most engaging about The Cary Council?

As a Steering Committee member, I get the opportunity to serve on a panel to select which young investigators receive The Cary Council Early-Stage Research Grants. We learn about the best and brightest upcoming stars at UT Southwestern and their innovative ideas that will change the world. While it's always difficult to select the final grantees, there are never any wrong choices. It's also been an incredible opportunity to interface with leaders, philanthropists, and other young professionals in the community, raising awareness about ways they can contribute to transformative research being conducted right here in Dallas.

What have you learned about UT Southwestern?

What’s been most surprising to me is how accessible everyone is in wanting to share or bring others into their work. Getting to see lab spaces firsthand, tour leading-edge facilities, and meeting with researchers has been an invaluable experience.

What has been your most memorable volunteer experience?

I had the honor to be Co-Chair of The Cary Council's annual "An Evening with DocStars" event with Alexandra Kahn. Because of COVID-19 we had to adapt to a drive-thru event with masking and social distancing. We had stations at UT Southwestern with a variety of goodies for attendees, such as yummy treats, swag, and take-home science kits designed by previous grant recipients and inspired by their research. Seeing the enthusiasm of all the guests and families supporting this cause was something I'll never forget.

Grace Cook and Margaret McDermott
Celebrating the impact of members of The Cary Council, Event Co-Chair Grace Cook, second from left, is pictured with (l-r) Samuel John, M.D.; Event Co-Chair Alexandra Kahn; Chair Amanda Eagle George; Emily H. Adhikari, M.D.; and Owoicho Adogwa, M.D., during the annual An Evening With DocStars at Home event held May 1, 2021 at UT Southwestern. Southwestern Medical Foundation

As a donor, why do you continue to give?

Through The Cary Council’s grants, I've seen the impact this funding can make on the work clinicians are doing in early-stage research. In the hopes of making medicine accessible to everyone, giving to UT Southwestern is something I can do to help pave the way towards that goal.

What is UT Southwestern's biggest contribution to the community?

The people UT Southwestern attracts to Dallas – and the fact that we have attracted so many Nobel Laureates alone – has made our city better as a whole, not only through the outreach programs that UT Southwestern engages in but with the multi-faceted involvement each of these individuals brings to the community.