William H. Danforth

When trying to summarize William H. Danforth’s contributions to the Washington University in St. Louis community, it is perhaps easiest to fall back on the numerous positions he held. During his more than half-century tenure, he served as a Professor of Medicine, Vice Chancellor of Medical Affairs, Chancellor of the university and Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Although he “retired” in 1995, he still served the university as a member of the Board and Chancellor Emeritus, working with others to shape our present and our future.

When trying to summarize his commitment to the larger St. Louis community, it is perhaps easiest to name his most public accomplishments. He chaired the effort to settle the twenty-seven year desegregation case against more than twenty of the St. Louis school districts; he co-chaired the Board of Barnes-Jewish Hospital; he served on the Board of the American Youth Foundation, which challenges young people to develop their personal best; he was the Chair of the Danforth Foundation, an important partner in the revitalization of the metropolitan community; and he was a catalyzing force behind the development of the life sciences in St. Louis through his role as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.

These roles and accomplishments, however, while suggesting his considerable dedication, do not capture the full extent of his generosity. It is a generosity surpassed only by his capacity to avoid recognition. His generosity of spirit, energy and leadership is an inspiration to all who knew him; he inspired those around him to serve as he served. And it is this generosity that made Bill Danforth such a worthy recipient of this award. In her nomination, Laura Chauvin wrote, “I have never met someone so keenly attuned to doing everything one can to leave St. Louis (and the world) a better place.”