Sandra and Edward Meyer have been influential leaders and advocates of Weill Cornell Medicine since 2013. Their generous gift of $75 million that year resulted in the establishment of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center, driving the institution forward as a leader in cancer research and bringing some of the brightest minds on board.
Actively involved as Overseers on Weill Cornell Medicine’s Board since 2014, Mr. and Mrs. Meyer’s ambitious and authentic focus on philanthropy is inspiring. An additional $3 million gift in 2015 established the Sandra and Edward Meyer Professorship of Cancer Research, which was awarded to Dr. Silvia Formenti, chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology.
For 36 years, Edward Meyer served as the CEO of Grey Global Group, an advertising and marketing agency, and Sandra Meyer was an interior designer, while also focusing on their family – they raised two children, Meg and Tony – and community volunteer activities. The Meyers’ support and passion for research continues to propel Weill Cornell Medicine on a successful trajectory as a leader in a vast and competitive cancer research and treatment space.
The Meyers recently sat down with Mark Veich, Weill Cornell Medicine’s vice provost for external affairs, to discuss the impact of philanthropy on research and what inspires their giving.
MV: Your family’s generosity has been truly transformational. Can you tell me about your experience as you determined how best and where to direct your philanthropy?
SM: At the end of 2013, I lost my closest friend to lung cancer. And in previous years, I lost two very dear friends to cancer as well. We’ve lost several family members from both sides of the family to cancer. I think curing cancer and making progress in cancer treatment and research is the most important thing we could do to help. We felt that not enough was being done.
EM: We saw cancer up close in our family and experienced how it ravaged people. Giving money to develop cures for cancer is a hugely satisfying thing to do. We set out to determine where a gift to cancer research could be most productive. To do that, we met with a number of medical institutions, and came to the conclusion that Weill Cornell Medicine was the right place for our investment. Here, we found a cancer center that was ambitious to grow, and the gifts we gave could immediately be put to use. There was a real passion and a commitment to expanding cancer research. And when we learned that Dr. Lewis Cantley (the Meyer Director of the Sandra and Edward Meyer Cancer Center and a professor of cancer biology at Weill Cornell Medicine) would be involved, we were thoroughly impressed.
SM: Our daughter, Meg, studied biochemistry at Harvard University, and Lew Cantley was her professor; 35 years later, he comes back into our lives again. She still says he was the best professor she ever had.
EM: We met with Lew, and he explained to us why this would be a particularly apt time to make a major gift to cancer research, because the field was undergoing great change and there would be considerable progress in the years to come. We’ve never regretted it for a moment. The progress that’s been made here is really astounding. He’s used the funding we provided to build a team of remarkable cancer researchers who have put Weill Cornell on par with the leaders in cancer research, which is exactly what we wanted. And now we feel that we’ve become part of the family here.
MV: You absolutely have. How did you both first learn about giving back? Is there someone who inspired you to have these philanthropic ideals?
SM: My mother. I remember her saying to me when I was little, “It doesn’t matter how much you give, even if it’s $5. If that’s all you can afford to give, that’s fine.” Giving to others was very important to her.
EM: Sandy has always had a very strong feeling that people in difficult circumstances need to be helped, which is wonderful. I remember the first year we rented a house somewhere out on Long Island, Sandy found a one-pump gas station off the beaten path that was run by an older gentleman. From then on, she told me, “This is where you’re going to buy your gas, because this man needs the help, and the big guys don’t.”
SM: You have to help those less fortunate than you. We’ve been very fortunate, and we see giving as its own reward.
MV: What advice do you have for other donors who are deciding how and where to give to make a difference?
SM: The first thing I ask friends who are looking to give back is where they are considering making a gift, and of course I tell them, “You must visit Weill Cornell Medicine.” Personally, I don’t think there is anything more important than research, and we believe that Weill Cornell has made outstanding research a top priority. But we also feel it’s important to be involved across the institution, attending meetings and seeing what progress is being made, from the researchers and physicians themselves.
MV: The Meyer Cancer Center has grown enormously, thanks to your philanthropy, and has made great strides in the cancer space since 2014. What do you see for the future of the Meyer Cancer Center and Weill Cornell Medicine?
EM: From an institutional point of view, I think that Weill Cornell is benefiting and will continue to benefit greatly by an enhanced reputation for leadership in cancer research and therapies. I think there will be major institutional support for further cancer research and for expanding the facilities and capabilities that this institution provides. That makes me very optimistic. I think the future for cancer treatment and research at this institution is bright because there’s a need for it, a will for it and we’re well on our way.
SM: I can’t stress how important research is, because that’s where the future lies. That’s where the lives of so many people are going to benefit.
EM: We’d like to see an acceleration in the rate of discovery of treatments for cancer. There are still so many types of cancer that go untreated, or if they’re treated, the treatment is not particularly successful. We are hopeful that we can see real progress toward cures and treatments being made.