Gift continues family tradition

Johns Hopkins' descendants get closer to school and to each other

Maryland Journal


Dr. James E.T. Hopkins is 91 now, a patriarch of a diverse and scattered clan that traces its heritage back to the 19th-century merchant and financier whose name is almost synonymous with Baltimore - Johns Hopkins.

A retired thoracic surgeon, Hopkins is a great-great-nephew of Johns Hopkins and graduated from the university and medical school that the institutions' founder began with a $7 million bequest. He says he is intensely proud of his family ties and "lucky as hell having the name."

That's why he came to think, years ago, about how the family might do something that would benefit the hospital and medical school, re-engage them with the institution and pull everyone closer together at the same time.

Fast forward to 2006, and the Hopkins laboratory of Dr. Chi Van Dang. He holds the new Johns Hopkins Family Professorship in Oncology Research, funded by a $2 million gift from the family. Income from it generates $90,000 a year to support Dang's study of the genetic roots of cancer.

The fundraising project formally culminated in May last year in a celebration at Clifton, Johns Hopkins' neglected former summer home, now surrounded by Clifton Park. One hundred and twenty-five collateral descendants and other relations gathered at the mansion.

Beyond raising money, the project was in some sense the family's gift to itself, says Janie Elizabeth "Liza" Bailey, a great-great-great-niece of the benefactor. "It's a way to re-engage in what it means to be related to somebody."

Relatives who were not particularly close are now planning a family Web site, a new genealogy and a new biography of Johns Hopkins. None of this would have happened, however, were it not for James Hopkins' idea and a cousin's timely bequest.

John L. Clark was a great-great-nephew of Johns Hopkins. He practiced law in Howard County and in the 1960s and 1970s served as a judge there. When he died in February 1998, he earmarked in his will $500,000 for Johns Hopkins Hospital.

It fell to his brother Joseph Hopkins Clark of Ellicott City and the family's attorney to liquidate the estate and deliver the checks. But the plan changed after Clark had dinner in 1999 with an old friend, Raymond R. Emerick, a retired wholesale florist who had recently been treated at Hopkins for cancer.

Initially, Clark decided they would jointly present the check to the physician who had cared for Emerick, Dr. Martin D. Abeloff, director of Hopkins' Oncology Center.

But as they discussed the gift, Emerick told Clark he had had second thoughts about a hospital room at Hopkins he had equipped with a gift in his late wife's name.

"In 20 years," he told Clark, "they'll go in with a forklift and throw all that equipment in a trash can."

Clark, 78, remembered that his physician cousin, James Hopkins, had spoken instead of endowing a research chair in oncology.

An endowment, James Hopkins said, "goes on forever. They can use the investment to make more money and pay the guy a decent salary. And much of it goes to graduate students in that guy's department."

But as generous as it was, John Clark's bequest fell $1.5 million short of the $2 million that Hopkins officials said was needed to sponsor a research professorship. They agreed to give the family time to raise the rest. It wouldn't be easy.

"This family is not a close family at all," Clark said. "A lot of them hardly have contact with the others."

It was then up to Bailey and her cousins, and to James Hopkins and his brother Samuel Hopkins, 92, a retired partner at Alex. Brown & Sons and the family genealogist, to identify and track down Johns Hopkins' collateral descendants.

Johns Hopkins had no children, but when he died in 1873, he left each of his nieces and nephews a $100,000 fortune.

Many of their descendants, too, have prospered. The family's elder living generation is marbled with doctors, nurses, financiers, lawyers, judges, legislators and warriors, all of whom are intensely proud of their ties to the university. And many have given individually to the university.

The family, however, decided to cast the net even wider.

"Jim was very sensitive to the fact that the legacy we all enjoy is not just from the collateral descendants, but also the legacy which Johns Hopkins inherited from his aunts and uncles, who were very active in the community," said Bailey, 52, a retired New York City investment banker. "So we reached back to his ancestors, and to some Quaker cousins," and asked their descendants to participate.

They also contacted descendants of the original trustees of the university and the hospital, and of some of Johns Hopkins' key commercial associates - including those of John Work Garrett, president of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, which Hopkins helped finance.

Eventually, they contacted 450 widely scattered descendants of the founder's relatives and close friends. It took more than six years.

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