Alec Wightman’s Longevity of Leadership: Making Connections to Strengthen the OSUCCC – James

Alex Wightmans Longevity of LeadershipAlec Wightman, partner at BakerHostetler, was a young attorney in the late 1980s when the Ohio Cancer Foundation led by Arthur G. James, MD, called seeking representation on its foundation board.

Alec recalls the awe and intimidation he felt in that first meeting, sitting across from the titans of business and politics in Columbus—men such as John G. McCoy, John Walton Wolfe, Dave Thomas and Len Immke. When another new board member handed a significant check to Dr. James, Alec made up his mind: he couldn’t match that level of giving, so he would contribute his time.

When the Ohio Cancer Foundation succeeded in opening the only freestanding cancer hospital in central Ohio in 1990, now The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), Dr. James charged Alec with building the next generation of leadership. Says Alec, “I took it seriously right from the beginning.”

In his more than 25 years of service on the James Foundation Board, including four years as chair during a major fundraising campaign that led to the creation of the Solove Research Institute, Alec has done just that—giving generously of his time and helping to raise funds that enable the OSUCCC – James to make an impact. The key to successful fundraising? “Listening,” says Alec. “I’ve got all the elevator speeches in the world about The James, but where you really connect is when you hear how cancer has touched somebody’s life. That’s when you know they will have an affinity for the cause.”

It is the relationships he has made along the way with others who share his enthusiasm for fighting cancer that have made his past 25 years of service worthwhile. He has continuously sought ways to connect others to the OSUCCC – James’ mission.

A recent example: Alec’s friends Bob and Peggy Walter called last year for his advice on how they could best honor David Schuller, MD, then-vice president of the Medical Center Expansion and Outreach, upon his retirement. Because of Alec’s longtime association with the OSUCCC – James and knowledge of what matters most to the Walters in their philanthropy, he helped to facilitate conversations with OSUCCC – James leadership that arrived at a decision that made everyone happy. The Walters honored Dr. Schuller by creating the David E. Schuller, MD Professorship for Patient Compassion. Inspired by Dr. Schuller’s incredible kindness toward patients and their families, the professorship will enhance caregivers’ training on the importance of compassionate patient care.

And while Alec is quick to minimize his role in securing the Walters’ gift, it underscores the best of what a Foundation Board member can do on behalf of the OSUCCC – James: listening to others and making the right connections that help move the cancer program forward.

Another major accomplishment of Alec’s is the role he played in revamping the Foundation Board’s membership guidelines. “The only purpose of the Foundation Board is to raise money,” says Alec. “It’s an honor to be on this board, and always has been. We decided that if people were going to join, we needed to create expectations.” Through his leadership as chair of the Governance and Nominating Committee, the board has raised the requirements for giving and meeting attendance, as well as other changes that have elevated the board’s performance and now serve as a model to other foundation boards and philanthropic advisory committees throughout The Ohio State University.

Michael A. Caligiuri, MD, director of Ohio State’s Comprehensive Cancer Center and CEO of The James, cannot say enough about Alec’s legacy of leadership. “Alec has been with The James since the beginning, and that means he has just as much institutional knowledge as he has passion for cancer research and care. No question, his leadership has absolutely strengthened The James and helped make it what it is today.”

Alec’s dedicated service to the OSUCCC – James has even inspired others to give in his honor, like the major gift from the late John Drinko, former executive partner of BakerHostetler, that created the Kathy and Alec Wightman Endowment Fund for Cancer Research Genetics. Incredibly moved by the act of generosity, Alec and his family have contributed to the fund, as well.

Looking back at the advances he has witnessed through his years serving on the James Foundation Board—from Dr. Schuller describing his vision for a molecular genomics program in the mid-1990s and then making it a reality, to the recruitment of world-class oncologists like Albert de la Chapelle, MD, PhD, and Clara Bloomfield, MD,—Alec is stunned by all that has been accomplished at The James.

“It’s almost unbelievable when you think that this hospital was literally built from scratch, and today is one of the top cancer treatment and research centers in the world. It’s amazing—and solely a result of the people who have worked there and the philanthropy that supports it.”

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