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Clifford Graham and family

Graham's gift: A labor of love

April 2010

by Natalie Gutierrez

$719,389 gift advances diabetes research and education in South Texas.

A deep love for her father and family, a powerful respect for her physician uncle and an unyielding determination led a young woman to devote her life to realizing an extraordinary dream - advancing medical research, education and health care in South Texas. This year, the Clifford Elder White Graham Fund for Diabetes Research fulfills the late Clifford Graham's vision with more than $700,000 that will benefit future generations for years to come.

Born in 1909, Clifford Graham grew up learning the value of hard work on her family's ranch, 16 miles outside of Cuero, Texas. She was the second of her four brothers and one sister. Graham and her siblings helped their mother care for their father, John Fletcher Elder Sr., who was diagnosed with diabetes in the early 1920s. Graham's uncle Nathan Elder, of Nixon, Texas, who was a physician, traveled to their home regularly to treat her father. But despite the best care Dr. Elder could provide, amputation was inevitable. With limited resources, technology and medications at the time, Graham saw her father lose a limb and his health deteriorate over the years until his death in 1929. He was in his 50s when he died.

Determined to fulfill her late father's wishes that she and her brothers become educated and live healthy and successful lives, Graham went on to earn a Bachelor of Science degree from Southwest Texas State University and a Master of Education degree from the University of Houston. She chose education as her career, teaching fourth graders in the North and South Texas public school systems from 1936 until her retirement in 1965.
Clifford Graham
Clifford Graham in the 1950s.
Graham often thought of her father and was inspired by the memory of her uncle, Dr. Elder, who had fiercely tried to save her father's life. She vowed to honor them by learning more about diabetes and medicine, and by helping future generations of physicians and patients.

Graham's upbringing taught her to live simply and frugally. As an adult, she became a savvy manager of her finances and investments. By the 1990s, Graham had saved enough money to make substantial contributions to a number of medical organizations in her region. In December 2008, upon her death at the age of 98, Graham's family said they were proud to announce a major gift she'd made to The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. An endowment of $719,389 established the Clifford Elder White Graham Fund for Diabetes Research.

"Aunt Clifford would be thrilled to see what this gift will accomplish in perpetuity," said Roxanne Elder, Graham's niece and a trustee of Graham's estate. "If her father would have been battling diabetes today, she would have brought him to the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio for treatment. This is where she would have wanted him to receive care."

Nicolas Musi, M.D.
The Clifford Elder White Graham Fund for Diabetes Research will support the work of researchers at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio such as Hanna Abboud, M.D., a world leader in the research and treatment of kidney disease, and Nicolas Musi, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the Division of Diabetes. Dr. Musi (center) conducts research focused on understanding why obesity and aging increase the risk of developing diabetes, and how exercise works to prevent diabetes and atherosclerosis.
The endowment will fund diabetes research under the direction of faculty members such as Hanna Abboud, M.D., the Jay H. Stein Professor in the Department of Medicine and chief of the Division of Nephrology, and Nicolas Musi, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the Division of Diabetes.

"Despite major advances in diabetes research and patient care, an alarmingly large number of diabetic patients continue to develop complications from the disease," Dr. Musi said. "There is much more we can learn about this disease and its intricacies. We are very grateful to the generosity of the late Clifford Graham. These funds will support the discovery of new and better ways to prevent and treat this devastating disease."

In addition to funding research at the Health Science Center, the gift initiated an educational partnership between the Health Science Center and the Cuero Community Hospital. Health Science Center faculty members will travel to Cuero throughout the year to participate in lectures and other educational opportunities at the Cuero Community Hospital Women's Health Center, which was established by a gift from Graham to the hospital and named in honor of her mother and aunt.

"This is exactly what Aunt Clifford would have wanted," Roxanne Elder said. "The Health Science Center is a flourishing research institution with so many resources it can share with its counterparts in rural parts of the state, such as Cuero, where my Aunt Clifford grew up. Generations will benefit. This is an incredible honor and legacy to Aunt Clifford that will also pay tribute to her father, her brave physician uncle, Dr. Nathan Elder, and her entire family."


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