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A bridge to better health

Foundation continues legacy of building brighter futures

Mikhail Kolonin, PhD, holds test tubes in the IMM

Towering over vast rivers and winding chasms, bridges connect distant people and places, linking entire communities through architectural marvels. For Harry E. Bovay, Jr., an engineer who grew up witnessing the impact of bridges on local communities, these structures came to take on a different meaning. Through philanthropy, he worked to bridge gaps in health care, education, and community development to create a path forward for future generations—a mission that the Harry E. Bovay, Jr. Foundation continues today.

When Bovay was just 12 years old, his father overheard a conversation outside a hotel in DeValls Bluff, Arkansas, between two men lamenting the sporadic schedule and long wait times for the local ferry. Realizing the community’s urgent need for a bridge, Bovay’s father left Arkansas the same day for Washington, DC, where he spent two months obtaining permits to build a toll bridge.

“By the time Mr. Bovay’s father was finished, he had built seven toll bridges, including the major bridge across the Mississippi River at Vicksburg,” says Michael (Mike) Patrick, President of the Harry E. Bovay, Jr. Foundation. “Mr. Bovay traveled with his father all over the country and witnessed how simple things like bridges can really make a difference for people.”

With these experiences under his belt, Bovay earned an engineering degree at Cornell University and pursued a fruitful career in the energy and telecommunications sectors.

Decades later, his early observations about his father’s bridges inspired him to begin building different kinds of bridges through philanthropy. With commitments to education, Boy Scouts of America, and health care, he cleared paths to healthy, fulfilling lives for the generations who followed him. 

“During his life, Mr. Bovay gave to the causes he felt passionate about and the things he believed would impact young people,” Mike remembers. “Health became a major part of that.”

In 2004, Bovay made his first philanthropic commitment to UTHealth Houston, launching an enduring partnership dedicated to improving health. In addition to establishing the Harry E. Bovay, Jr. Distinguished University Chair in Metabolic Disease Research, this initial commitment also laid the foundation for the Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases at The Brown Foundation Institute of Molecular Medicine for the Prevention of Human Diseases at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston.

Throughout the Many Faces. One Mission. philanthropic campaign, the foundation has built on this initial commitment and expanded Bovay’s legacy through contributions to support geriatric research and education and to initiate new studies on metabolic diseases while advancing the careers of young scientists in the field.

“The Bovay Foundation’s generosity to the Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases has enabled us to kickstart innovative and impactful metabolism research as well as pursue collaborations with other leaders in the field,” says Mikhail Kolonin, PhD, the Harry E. Bovay, Jr. Distinguished University Chair in Metabolic Disease Research and Director of the center.

With the foundation’s support, Kolonin and his team are bringing to life advances that shed light on cellular aging and the development of diseases associated with obesity. In particular, Kolonin has made critical discoveries linking different types of adipose cells to common health conditions ranging from cancer to type 2 diabetes.

“Mr. Bovay would be very pleased with the research Dr. Kolonin and his team are doing,” Mike says. “He would be sitting in meetings with the scientists and asking hundreds of questions about their discoveries. I think he would be tickled by all the wonderful things they are doing.”

In November 2021, the Bovay Foundation renewed their partnership with UTHealth Houston through a philanthropic commitment that provides resources and equipment for Dr. Kolonin and his team to continue pushing the boundaries of metabolic medicine. The foundation’s support will also help launch research on types of breast cancer that are resistant to traditional therapies.

“Throughout my career working for Mr. Bovay, he always wanted to find the best possible people and organizations to collaborate with in order to accomplish a goal,” Mike says. “I think that is what we have found at UTHealth Houston. People like Dr. Kolonin, who have the dedication, desire, and ability to help others, are truly wonderful.”
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