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Giving to medicine and health at the University of Minnesota

Mutual admiration

George Mairs (foreground) and his doctor, Edward Cheng, M.D., share a professional and personal relationship. Their friendship inspired Mairs and his wife, Dusty, to endow a chair in orthopaedic surgery, naming Cheng as the first chairholder.

Patient-physician bond leads to major gift

When George Mairs, at age 72, went into surgery at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, Fairview, to remove a soft-tissue sarcoma, his hopes were fixed firmly on recovery. He wasn’t banking on emerging with a life-changing friendship as well.

But six years later, a healthy and energetic Mairs counts his surgeon, Edward Cheng, M.D., as a valued friend. “Dr. Cheng is not only a fine surgeon but also a fine human being,” Mairs says.

That admiration is clearly mutual. “George and his wife, Dusty, are a delightful couple,” Cheng says. “Beginning with George’s initial clinic appointment, I’ve enjoyed my visits with them. I admire George’s humble character as well as his clear and visionary thinking.”

Now, that goodwill is tangibly benefiting the University and medical science as a whole. Their fondness for Cheng inspired George and Dusty Mairs to establish the Mairs Family Chair in support of the Musculoskeletal Bone and Soft Tissue Tumor Center in the University’s Department of Orthopaedic Surgery. Cheng was named the first Mairs Family Chairholder in 2004. “It’s a privilege I hold dear to my heart,” he says.

But the Mairses’ generosity didn’t stop there. As the cost of financing an endowed chair has increased, they have continued to support the fund with several additional major gifts.

The endowment allows Cheng—admired by patients and colleagues as an outstanding clinician—to devote more time to research and administrative work. That includes organizing and coordinating clinical trials, modifying existing therapies, and adapting advances in other fields to the treatment of bone and soft-tissue cancers.

The Mairs Family Chair supports both training for fellows and Cheng’s research on positron emission tomography (PET) scans as a more accurate means of assessing whether a patient’s treatment is working. Currently, physicians measure how much a tumor is shrinking, but that’s not always a reliable indicator of treatment efficacy.

Some tumors don’t shrink. Bone, for example, doesn’t actually shrink; it hardens, explains Cheng, who believes PET may offer a better way to determine a tumor’s response to therapy.

At 78, George Mairs shows no signs of slowing down. He sparkles when the subject turns to Dusty and his large, close family—their 14 grandchildren all live nearby—and George still enjoys playing an active leadership role at Mairs and Power, Inc., a successful St. Paul-based investment firm.

“I’ve had a very rewarding career, and I appreciate my ability to continue it,” says Mairs. “I’ve been able to remain active in a firm my father started 75 years ago.”

In making the gift, “Our aim was to support the University and the Medical School,” Mairs says. “Historically, it’s been a premier institution.” That eminence didn’t develop by accident, he adds, and it shouldn’t be taken for granted.

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