Washington University in St. Louis: Eliot Society members gather for final annual dinner

The William Greenleaf Eliot Society held its 53rd — and final — annual dinner in honor of Washington University in St. Louis’ group of committed supporters April 28 at the Ritz-Carlton, St. Louis.

Eliot Society members generously give to the university and lead in supporting the annual fund. Members help the university address a broad range of critical needs including scholarships, student assistance programs, educational resources and faculty development. At last count there were more than 10,200 members.

Eliot Society President Christopher Chivetta, who earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 1984 from what’s now the McKelvey School of Engineering and a master’s in business administration in 1986 from Olin Business School, welcomed guests and recognized members’ essential role in university fundraising.

“As leaders in annual giving, you play a pivotal role in creating an exceptional experience for students,” Chivetta said. “Our gifts provide critical resources to help attract talented students to WashU every year — and that includes scholarships.”

Chancellor Andrew D. Martin also recognized society members’ invaluable support during an unprecedented time in the world.

“In the coming years, annual fund gifts will help us make adjustments to meet students where they are after two years of disrupted learning during the pandemic,” he said. “And even more crucially, they will help us keep our promise to all students that they, too, can grow, learn, thrive and be cared for at WashU regardless of their previous opportunities.”

Martin explained that in future years, the dinner will be replaced with more frequent casual events that “deepen the society’s presence outside St. Louis and virtually.”

Search Award
During the event, Martin also presented the Search Award to longtime university supporters James S. and Elizabeth H. McDonnell.

The Search Award, the Eliot Society’s highest honor, is bestowed upon members of the university community who have made exceptional contributions to furthering its mission.

Awardees receive a silver replica of “The Search,” a sculpture designed by the late Heikki Seppä that symbolizes the endless quest for truth and knowledge. Seppä was a professor emeritus at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts.

James S. McDonnell III, a graduate of Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, began his career as an aerodynamics engineer at McDonnell Aircraft in 1963. His father founded the company, which later became McDonnell Douglas Corp., in 1939. He retired in 1991 as vice president of the company and served as a director until its merger with Boeing Co. in 1997.

He was a member of the School of Medicine’s COVID-19 task force and has served on the school’s National Council for 35 years.

Elizabeth H. McDonnell attended Hollins University, where she served on its board of trustees. She is a life member of the Women’s Society at Washington University.

Together, the St. Louis natives are two of the university’s most generous benefactors. The couple has helped advance breakthroughs that redefined the way physicians and scientists practice medicine and conduct biomedical research.

The McDonnells endowed The Elizabeth H. and James S. McDonnell III Genome Institute in 2014, one of a few large sequencing centers in the United states to play a leading role in the genomic revolution.

They endowed the Elizabeth Finney McDonnell Chair in Pediatric Hematology Oncology in 2017. The couple endowed the Elizabeth H. and James S. McDonnell III Distinguished Professorship in Medicine in 2009 and helped fund the McDonnell Pediatric Research Building in 2000, joined with Anne and John F. McDonnell and the JSM Charitable Trust.

After the McDonnells received the Search Award, Martin interviewed this year’s guest speaker, Leslie Odom Jr. Following the conversation, Odom treated the audience to a musical performance.

Odom is an award-winning vocalist, songwriter, author and actor. He is best known for his breakout performance as Aaron Burr in the musical “Hamilton,” for which he received a Tony Award. He also received recognition from the Golden Globes and the Academy Awards for his performance as Sam Cooke in Regina King’s “One Night in Miami.”