The Diabetes Research Institute Foundation and the University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center jointly announced their receipt of a $35.6 million gift from the estate of the late Eugenia Dodson of Coral Gables. The gift, to be split between the two leading research centers on a two-thirds, one-third basis respectively, was specifically designated by the donor to be used for cure-focused research in the two diseases that had affected her and her brothers.

Eugenia “Gene” Dodson lived a humble life. Born in 1904 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, she grew up in rural Silver Creek, Minnesota. At 20 she moved to Miami and got her first job working at the beauty shop at Burdines. An independent and intelligent woman, she opened her own beauty shop in the late 1920s and made it through the Depression by supporting herself and living a simple and frugal life.

In 1943 she married the love of her life, Joseph Enloe Dodson, whom she met on a train to Washington D.C. He was a civil engineer and the chief operating partner in the Oolite Rock Company. He died in 1949, leaving her a modest legacy and his partnership interest in the company. Once the company had mined all of the oolite from its land holdings, it sold its depleted quarry land parcels to real estate developers. Dodson invested her share of the land sale proceeds with great care and attention, buying primarily blue chip stocks. She nurtured, reinvested, and grew her fortune over the next 50 years while continuing to live a very modest and frugal lifestyle.

“ She just didn’t believe in having any luxuries for herself,” says Donald Kubit, who served as her lawyer for the last two years of her life. “She was a small town Minnesota girl who didn’t believe in living a lavish lifestyle.

“ Gene was a very bright and big-hearted woman,” says Kubit. “When I met her, she was in her late 90s, but she was sharp as a tack. She was just very, very astute. She read all of her proxy statements, questioned her investment advisors, and kept on top of her investments, all the while living frugally and denying herself the trappings of wealth.”

She was very close to her two brothers, who suffered terribly and died of complications of diabetes. Their deaths had a big impact on her life. In 1979, 30 years after she was widowed, she developed lung cancer and had to have a lobe of one of her lungs removed. This is when she began to consider donating the fortune she was creating toward finding cures for both diabetes and cancer.

“We did some investigating together,” says Kubit, “and concluded that the Diabetes Research Institute was doing cutting-edge research on finding a cure for diabetes and was close to a breakthrough. I talked with physicians in town who confirmed this. And we received similar positive feedback about the quality of the work being done at Sylvester. As a consequence, Gene determined to leave two-thirds of the $35.6 million residue of her estate to the Diabetes Research Institute Foundation to fund research to find a cure for diabetes, and the remaining one-third to UM’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center to fund research to find a cure for cancer. These are extraordinary gifts from a kind, wonderful, and selfless woman who dedicated her life and her fortune to the noble cause of curing terrible diseases that devastate so many lives.”

The enormity of the gift provides each organization with unprecedented opportunities to expand current research activities, explore promising scientific areas, develop new treatments, and greatly accelerate progress toward a cure for two of the most prevalent and devastating diseases in this country.