By Michelle Koidin Jaffee
J. Lee Dockery, M.D., founding chair of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation whose vision and leadership have guided the growth and direction of the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida and propelled translational research in the field of age-related cognitive decline, was awarded the University of Florida President’s Medallion for outstanding service to the university on Thursday evening.
On behalf of UF President Ben Sasse, David R. Nelson, M.D., senior vice president for health affairs at UF and president of UF Health, presented the honor to Dockery at the MBI’s 25th anniversary celebration, attended by more than 200 leaders, members and donors at the Champions Club at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
“We have Lee and the foundation to really thank for showing us a pathway to be exceptional,” Nelson said. “As we look to the future, we personally owe you a big debt of gratitude.”
Dockery served as chair of the McKnight Brain Research Foundation, or MBRF, from its founding in 1999 until his retirement 20 years later, and he continues to serve as chair emeritus of the MBRF Board of Trustees. The MBRF is a nonprofit foundation established by Evelyn McKnight to support research of the brain and age-related cognitive decline and memory loss.
Among his most notable accomplishments, Dockery oversaw a $15 million gift from the MBRF to UF in 2000, at the time the largest gift in university history. Matched by the state of Florida for $30 million total, the gift led to a new name for the then 2-year-old UF Brain Institute: the Evelyn F. and William L. McKnight Brain Institute of the University of Florida.
In accepting the award, Dockery reflected on the passion and commitment of the McKnights to invest in research aimed at optimizing cognitive aging — the typical process that affects most people in advanced age and stands in contrast with pathological memory loss associated with conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease.
As the MBI turns 25, Dockery told the audience, “It is very important that we make our effort to be productive, to help people discover the mysteries of the brain that will help us better understand how we think, how we learn, how we remember.”
“I’m deeply honored by this award, and I’m unable to say my gratitude completely, but please know, I thank you,” he said.
The award honors Dockery’s 49 years of service to the university, including as a professor of obstetrics and gynecology, executive associate dean, interim dean and interim vice president for clinical affairs. Among his many accolades, he has received the UF Distinguished Achievement Award, Teacher of the Year Award and Hippocratic Oath Award for most outstanding physician and teacher from the UF College of Medicine. In addition, he has been named Honorary Alumnus of the UF College of Medicine.