Seymour Taxman personally delivers $2.5 million gift to fund GI research

Fellowship, endowment and reception areas all honor the late Joseph B. Kirsner

December 20, 2012

Real estate businessman Seymour "Sy" Taxman and his wife, Nancy, presented a gift of $2.5 million to the University of Chicago Medicine on Wednesday in honor of the late Joseph B. Kirsner, MD, PhD, the Louis Block Distinguished Service Professor of Medicine and a pioneer in the research and treatment of digestive disease.

Taxman, CEO and founder of the Taxman Corp., a real estate development company in the Chicago area, announced the intended donation at the annual fundraising event for the Gastro-Intestinal Research Foundation on June 30, 2012, to support the training of specialists in gastro-intestinal diseases. Kirsner died several days later, on July 7, at the age of 102.

Originally intended to be spread out over five years, Taxman said Wednesday he and his wife decided to accelerate the donation following a major surgical procedure at the University of Chicago Medicine on Nov. 30. The operation was to finally resolve a chronic gastro-intestinal condition, which he had lived with for more than 12 years.

He handed one of his doctors, David Rubin, MD, co-director of the Inflammatory Bowl Disease Center, the full $2.5 million Wednesday.

During those 12 years, Taxman said, he was blessed to have the compassionate care and support of Kirsner, known fondly as "Dr. Joe," as well as Stephen Hanauer, MD, GI section chief, and Rubin.

"I could not have had three more compassionate human beings as guardians of my health," Taxman said.

"Dr. Joe changed a big part of my life," Taxman added. "He was the brightest and most caring person I have ever met."

Taxman said he and his wife want to ensure the continuation of the kind of care that "Dr. Joe" personified -- where the holding of a hand can be as important to a patient's treatment as any technical measure.

The gift consists of:

  • $1.5 million to the Joseph B. Kirsner Endowed Fellowship to enable leading young GI physician-scientists from around the world to train with the University of Chicago Medicine's top-ranked gastroenterologists.
  • $500,000 for the establishment of the Joseph B. Kirsner Endowment for Excellence, to ensure the University of Chicago Medicine remains at the forefront of GI patient care, research and education.
  • $500,000 for a faculty area at the Center for Care and Discovery, which is scheduled to open in February, to keep Kirsner's memory alive for future generations of GI doctors and their patients. The area will be named "The Joseph B. Kirsner GI Faculty Reception Area made possible by Nancy and Seymour Taxman."

"This magnanimous gift is a fitting tribute to the seminal role played by Dr. Joseph Kirsner to further our understanding of gastrointestinal health and disease and to advocate for every patient he ever cared for," Kenneth S. Polonsky, MD, Dean of the Biological Sciences Division and the Pritzker School of Medicine and Executive Vice President of Medical Affairs at the University of Chicago, said shortly after the June announcement.

Though he had not considered himself a philanthropist before, Taxman said, "Dr. Joe opened my eyes to the importance of private, charitable giving."

Kirsner had been an influential physician at the University of Chicago since his arrival in August 1935 as an assistant in medicine. Except for his time in the Army during World War II, he taught aspiring doctors, conducted medical research and took care of patients for almost 70 years. He was devoted to his profession: He stopped seeing patients at age 95.

He published more than 750 scientific papers and 18 books, including six editions of his authoritative textbook, "Inflammatory Bowel Disease." He trained more than 200 of the field's leading specialists.

In 1962, a collection of Kirsner's grateful patients formed the Gastro-Intestinal Research Foundation (GIRF), which has provided nearly $30 million to support gastrointestinal research at the University, including $2 million for the 17,000-square-foot Joseph B. Kirsner Center for the Study of Digestive Diseases, which opened at the medical center in 1986.

U.S. News & World Report has consistently ranked the University of Chicago Medical Center's GI section as among the top in the country for more than 20 years.

Sy Taxman has been a longtime member of the GIRF board and is a pioneer in his own field, bringing suburban-style commercial retail development to the city. Since its inception, the Taxman Corp. has developed nearly 85 shopping centers, drugstores, supermarkets, and properties throughout the city and in the suburbs.

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