At its inaugural awards event, “A Celebration of Transformation and Hope” on May 11, 2010, The University of Texas Health Science Center (UTHealth) honored The Honorable James A. Baker, III and Denton A. Cooley, MD, as transformational leaders in their fields.

Houston natives Baker, 61st U.S. Secretary of State, and Cooley, pioneer in cardiovascular surgery and transplantation, were chosen as inaugural honorees “for creating the best hope for a better future,” said UTHealth President Larry R. Kaiser, MD.

The UTHealth Transformation and Hope Awards are designed to honor leaders of distinction who have transformed society and made a personal, transformational impact that benefited Houston, Texas, the nation and the world, Kaiser said.

The celebration was chaired by Linda McReynolds and her husband, Walter McReynolds, MD, long-time friends of both honorees and active supporters of UTHealth. KTRK-13’s Tom Koch served as master of ceremonies. The event, which was not meant to be a fundraiser, nevertheless raised about $350,000 in support of UTHealth.

Also during the black tie event, which attracted approximately 350 guests to River Oaks Country Club, Kaiser announced a $1.5 million matching gift commitment by philanthropist George Mitchell. The gift will benefit the university’s George P. and Cynthia W. Mitchell Center for Research in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Brain Disorders.

The new Mitchell gift commitment is the first step in UTHealth’s drive to raise $5 million, said Claudio Soto, PhD, professor of neurology at McGovern Medical School and director of the Mitchell Center. The $5 million will help position the Mitchell Center to be competitive for National Institutes of Health Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center status. This would make the Mitchell Center one of only 18 such centers in the country and the only one in Texas.

During the May event, Kaiser announced bold plans. “My goal is to help make Houston the No. 1 destination for patient care, the No. 1 destination for top scientific researchers and the No. 1 destination for the best students – our future physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and public health professionals.”

UTHealth Development Board Chair Eugene H. Vaughan praised Kaiser for his commitment to Houston and to the university. “Dr. Larry Kaiser is a man on a mission. He believes that the Houston region can become the world’s premiere choice for innovative health solutions. I believe he’s right.”

In honoring Baker, Kaiser noted his “consummate statecraft, which has enabled leaders to emerge from conflict with optimism and nations to view the future with hope.” He also praised Baker for his “dedication to this city and its institutions, which has enabled Houston to establish a meaningful voice in world affairs.”

Accepting his award, Baker praised both Cooley and President George H.W. Bush, observing that many of his own accomplishments were tied in some way to the former president, his good friend.

Though President Bush was not in attendance, he sent a video message in which he noted, “Jim Baker and Denton Cooley for decades have played leading roles in events and decisions that shaped our country and our world… And like their parents and grandparents, they also have made extraordinary contributions to Houston, helping create its great institutions and fostering its growth into a world capital.”

Presenting Cooley his award, Kaiser thanked the world-renowned surgeon: “For placing the gift of your talent and the genius of your creativity at the service of human well-being and for transforming the field of cardiovascular medicine and creating in Houston a center of hope so that people around the world might live longer, healthier lives.”

Cooley noted that “we’ve grown our Texas Medical Center into the largest medical center in the world, and probably beyond that, the best.” Both Cooley and Baker praised Houston for its generous support of universities and medical institutions.

In addition to the leadership awards, endowed scholarships were established in the names of both honorees with proceeds from the event. A third scholarship was established to honor Vaughan for fostering the next generation of leaders to guide Houston’s future and for “his dedication to UTHealth,” Kaiser said.