One day when Carol Deane was an undergraduate biology student at Lake Forest College, a private liberal arts university north of Chicago, she happened to pick up a magazine.
“That was back when they had those Save the Children ads that said, ‘You can save this child for 10 cents a day, or you can turn the page,’” says Deane, who recently completed a six-year tenure as chair of the Duke University School of Medicine Board of Visitors. “Well, I couldn’t turn the page.”
Deane adopted the habit of philanthropy early, and she has maintained it ever since, even as her capacity to give has grown well past a dime a day. Earlier this year she made a $5 million commitment to establish a Presidential Distinguished Chair in the School of Medicine, a new class of endowed professorships created to maximize Duke’s ability to recruit and retain exceptional faculty in a wide range of disciplines. And that commitment was just the latest in Deane’s long history of support and service for the school.
“One of the members of the Board of Visitors said something that I really believe: ‘Because of Duke’s scientific excellence and collaborative culture, the next great breakthroughs are probably going to happen there,’” says Deane. “Anything I can do to help that happen sooner or better is worth doing. I want to support institutions where I feel like it's really going to matter. I think Duke punches much higher than its weight, and the people there are amazing. It’s a place where I feel that my contribution can make a difference.”
The Presidential Distinguished Chair program was launched in conjunction with Duke Science and Technology, a university-wide research initiative aimed at addressing critical global challenges by advancing research and scholarship. Each Presidential Distinguished Chair is supported by a philanthropic commitment of at least $5 million in endowed funds. For each chair established in the School of Medicine, Duke Health will invest an additional $5 million in expendable funds to ensure that the faculty chairholder has the resources necessary to advance discovery at Duke.
“I want to support people and programs that will translate to medical breakthroughs and help cure disease,” Deane says. “Endowed professorships with a focus on research can do that.”
Carol’s deep connection to the university stems from her late husband, Disque D. Deane, who was a member of the Class of 1943 and later served the university in numerous roles, including the Board of Trustees. During Disque’s lifetime, he and Carol supported numerous programs within the School of Medicine, including funding three chairs, all in the neurosciences, prior to the Presidential Distinguished Chair, as well as programs in Trinity and the School of Nursing. He died in 2010, but she has carried on their tradition of giving and service ever since. She has provided significant support for Duke’s neuroscience programs, including Alzheimer’s disease research, and in 2018 she made a $1.25 million gift for research at the dean’s discretion in the School of Medicine.
She joined the Duke Health Board of Visitors in 2009 at the urging of then-School of Medicine Dean Sandy Williams and was asked to become chair in January of 2015 by former Chancellor for Health Affairs Victor Dzau. When the Duke Health Board of Visitors transitioned to become the Duke University School of Medicine Board of Visitors, she agreed to continue on as chair. She was an active and visionary chair, emphasizing the role of board members in serving as ambassadors, connectors, and fundraisers for Duke. In both capacities, she led by example.
“One of the jobs of the chair of the Board of Visitors is to encourage people to support the School of Medicine,” Deane says. “But it's very hard to ask other people to do that if you haven't done it yourself. It's much easier if you can say, ‘Please join me.’”
Among other things, Deane initiated a series of field trips that gave board members the opportunity to visit Duke scientists in their labs and hear about their research. She also oversaw the transition of the former Duke Health Board of Visitors into the Duke University School of Medicine Board of Visitors in 2019. She continued to serve as chair of the School of Medicine board until this past May and will stay on as immediate past chair for the remainder of the year.
“Sandy Williams asked me to join the board way back when, and I just became so interested in what I learned about Duke that I wanted to stay involved,” she says. “Duke is still young and hungry, and it’s not as siloed as a lot of other institutions. There are so many exciting things going on there. I love being a part of that.”
In her philanthropy and her service to Duke, she’s living the lessons she learned as a girl growing up in New York City.
“My mother believed that if you can give back, you should,” she says. “That’s how we were brought up. It doesn’t have to be a large amount. Help to the extent that you can. Small donations make a difference too. Everybody has to start somewhere.”