Steve and Eva Lynn Dunn
“I can hear my grandfather’s voice. ‘Put your mother first, boy.’” Eva Lynn and Steve Dunn sit in a conference room in Dunn Tower, the Houston Methodist building named in honor of Steve’s father, John S. Dunn. Today, though, he is not here to talk about his father. Instead, he leans back again over the table, taking one more look at the portrait of his mother. In the portrait she is young and beautiful. “Unbelievable,” he says, and there’s a tremor in his voice that comes from somewhere back in time.
This year, Eva Lynn and Steve made a philanthropic commitment to establish the Dagmar Dow Dunn Innovator Award, a bold collaborative translational research program between Houston Methodist and Rice University. The program honors Steve’s mother and grandfather – Dagmar Dow Dunn and Charles Milby Dow.
Steve remembers his mother, Dagmar Dow Dunn, as a generous and grateful woman. She was an active member of Christ Church Cathedral and a longtime volunteer at the Texas Medical Center. She passed away in December 2005. His grandfather, Charles Milby Dow, was a prominent Houstonian known for his charitable deeds, including the bequest of several parks to the City of Houston. “They were both so generous,” says Eva Lynn, “and they were both grateful to be a part of Houston.”
“For me, I felt like we’d done so much to honor my dad,” Steve says. “And we hadn’t had an opportunity until now to honor my mother and grandfather.”
There is no question that the Dunn family, and the John S. Dunn Foundation, have been leading contributors to the growth and development of world-class medicine in Houston and the Texas Medical Center. Such uncommon generosity is born from a deeply ingrained spirit of giving, instilled in Steve by his family.
“We were so privileged,” Steve says. “We were so fortunate. But in addition to that great good fortune, we were told in no uncertain terms that to really appreciate our good fortune, and to truly be grateful, it didn’t stop with just saying thank you. You had to pass it on.” At Houston Methodist, in addition to the naming of Dunn Tower, the Dunn Foundation established six endowed chairs in disciplines ranging from glioblastoma to reconstructive surgery and more. At Rice University, they have most recently funded the John S. Dunn Foundation Collaborative Research Award Program for the BioSciences Research Collaborative. For Eva Lynn and Steve, however, the Dagmar Dow Dunn Innovator Award is a personal, planned giving contribution. “We’ve had such blessed lives due to our families,” says Eva Lynn. “This way we can express that gratitude.” Through a bequest, Eva Lynn and Steve’s contribution will establish an endowment which will fund the Dagmar Dow Dunn Innovator Award in perpetuity.
The award is modeled in part after prominent international award programs such as the Nobel Prize, the Japan Prize and the Howard Hughes Investigators. Each year, it will provide research support to a medical investigator at Houston Methodist or Rice University working at the cutting edge of science. Innovators will be selected based on their success in applying discoveries generated during research in the laboratory to the development of medical clinical trials and studies in humans. The award is shared between Houston Methodist and Rice University because of each institution’s unique focus on translational research and strong fiscal accountability.
“Hopefully, this award can spur on help to the bedside,” says Steve. “The current time chasm between coming up with something really great and getting it approved for use is too long. Many people don’t live long enough to benefit. Hopefully we can speed up that process and really help people.”
Additionally, awardees can work in collaboration with institutions associated with the Gulf Coast Consortia, which is comprised of seven prominent Houston-Galveston area institutions, including: Baylor College of Medicine, Rice University, University of Houston, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and the Institute of Biosciences & Technology at Texas A&M Health Science Center.
The collaborative aspect of the program was an important factor in the creation of the award. “Mixing the best with the best should create a synergy in getting all of this to the bedside – to the patient, as quickly as possible,” says Eva Lynn.
“In my opinion, some of our better decisions have involved not only Houston Methodist but also the Gulf Coast Consortia,” says Steve. “It’s been our experience that they have really taken advantage of the opportunity.” These are the words of a family that has garnered valuable experience in philanthropy and that makes philanthropic decisions with due consideration. Eva Lynn and Steve both agree that money is a tool, and its impact on the world – for good or ill – is determined by the way it is used. “I’ll never forget,” Steve says, telling the story of when his dad established the John S. Dunn Foundation. “My father came to me, and he said, ‘Look, I’m not going to give you any more money. I’m going to give you something that’s even greater. I’m going to give you a gift. And the gift is the opportunity to do a lot of good with a lot of money.’”
This lesson stuck with Steve, and guides his philosophy on giving today. “To me, philanthropy is the gasoline in the car,” says Steve. “If you are in the business of writing checks for the good of the community, it really helps if you’re motivated to try to make the world a better place – without trying to drive a particular political position or offer a business opinion. True philanthropy is trying to make the best decision possible to help the community. It really is altruistic.”
Eva Lynn and Steve’s connection to Houston Methodist is personal. Both have received what they refer to as lifesaving treatment at the hospital. And both are effusive in their praise for and trust in Houston Methodist as an institution. “We feel as though it’s an honor to be associated with Houston Methodist,” says Steve. “We’re very keen on following the money we give, and it’s really free of worry that the money is going to be mishandled. And that’s huge. After all, what’s wrong with doing business with an institution that is so successful, so well-recognized? It’s an honor for us.”
Steve knows where his sense of philanthropy and his dedication to helping others originates. He gives credit to his father, who he remembers as a powerful yet generous man. But he returns again to the portrait of his mother, and then to the matching portrait of his grandfather. He can’t look away.
“When I see the people that we’re able to help, it’s made me realize even more how truly blessed my life has been,” says Steve. “And it’s great to have an opportunity to make a difference for others. I feel a sense of urgency to make a difference in the community. “It’s been a gift. The gift of giving.”