Jeff Firestone and Kathy Smyth
Jeff Firestone and Kathy Smyth carry on the family legacy of the Nancy and Clive Runnells Foundation and the Pierce Runnells Foundation.

We hold dear our family traditions– from a daily moment at the dinner table to celebrating holidays. The Institute of Molecular Medicine is proud to have been a part of the Runnells’ family tradition of philanthropic support for decades.

Nancy and Clive Runnells created the Nancy and Clive Runnells Foundation in 2000, which is built upon the strong family principles of giving back.

Clive’s mother, Mary Withers Runnells, instilled the value of philanthropy in Clive at a young age, recalled his widow, Kathy Smyth.

“Clive had a strong belief in philanthropy. He often said, ‘if you don’t do something for others, you ain’t worth a !!##!!!’” Smyth said.

Clive Runnells connected to the IMM back in 2004, when he reached out to Rick Wetsel, PhD, director of the IMM’s Hans J. Muller-Eberhard and Irma Gigli Research Center for Immunology, whom he had read about in the Houston Chronicle.

“He asked me how much it would take to jump start my research, and I told him $100,000,” recalled Wetsel, holder of the Hans J. Muller-Eberhard, M.D., Ph.D. and Irma Gigli, M.D. Distinguished Chair in Immunology. “I didn’t know if I was asking for too much, or too little. He told me he would have to talk to his wife.”

That started Wetsel’s long friendship with the Runnells, who continued to support his stem cell research over the years.

“Clive loved getting to know the grant recipients personally and made many lasting friendships. His primary interests were medical research and conservation.”

– Kathy Smyth

The generous support made a great difference for Wetsel’s research.

“Those philanthropic funds have made it possible to develop four of our own stem cell lines – two of which are approved by the National Institutes of Health,” Wetsel said.

The Runnells’ unwavering support of stem cell research was personal. Clive and his wife Nancy’s son, Pierce, suffered a debilitating back injury due to a devastating skiing accident and died before the promise of stem cell therapy could be realized.

Clive and Nancy had instilled the value of giving back in Pierce, who, in turn, created the Pierce Runnells Foundation.

Pierce died in 2007, Clive died in 2019, and Nancy died in 2016, but their foundations live on in continued support of IMM research.

Today, four trustees work together on these two family foundations to continue the legacy of Nancy and Clive Runnells and their son Pierce Runnells. Smyth leads the Nancy and Clive Runnells Foundation, and Jeff Firestone oversees the Pierce Runnells Foundation.

The foundations continue to support stem cell applications, including preclinical studies of the role of stem cells for correcting cleft palate, headed up by Charles Cox, MD, holder of the George and Cynthia Mitchell Distinguished Chair in Neurosciences; macular degeneration, overseen by Wetsel; and an investigative trial of the use of stem cells in improving stroke outcome, led by Sean Savitz, MD, director, UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases and Frank M. Yatsu, M.D., Chair in Neurology.

“Since being introduced to the IMM at an IMMPact Symposium, I have had the pleasure of visiting with some of these dedicated professionals, who have dedicated their lives to their important work. I am grateful for what they do, and it is an honor and a privilege to be able to support their work.”

– Kathy Smyth



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