Lester Smith is a man on a mission.
In an interview last month with CultureMap editor-at-large Shelby Hodge, the Houston oilman said he was serious about giving away most of his fortune to fight cancer and other diseases.
He continues to put his money where his mouth is.
Smith and his wife, Sue, delighted a packed audience at the Harris County Hospital District board room Wednesday morning with the announcement that their foundation is donating $15 million to the hospital district to fund cancer diagnosis and treatment.
The Smith Breast Center and related cancer clinics in the new five-story tower for patient care currently under construction on Holly Hall, south of the Texas Medical Center, will be equipped with state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment, 26 stations for chemotherapy treatment, 17 examination rooms and other facilities to offer first-rate treatment to residents of Harris County with cancer. The center will be staffed by residents and faculty of Baylor College of Medicine.
In honor of the donation, the new Harris County outpatient care center will be named the Smith Clinic. The building, which will also include diagnostic and treatment clinics in asthma, diabetes, infectious disease and other specialities currently located at Ben Taub General Hospital, is expecting more than 160,000 annual patient visits after it opens late this year.
The couple, both with tears in their eyes, received a standing ovation. Lester Smith pocketed his prepared speech and in brief remarks said this project "is the most meaningful of anything we've been involved with."
Later in the presentation, Smith indicated he's not done yet with his crusade to make sure residents without health insurance get the same level of treatment that he does for cancer and other diseases. (He has had prolonged bouts with bladder and prostate cancer that required 40 surgeries but is now cancer free.)
After Harris County Commissioner El Franco Lee noted that he and other commissioners oversee the Harris County Hospital District, Smith jumped up to the podium and said, "Guess who's going to be camping out at Commissioners Court saying gimme, gimme, gimme. You are going to rue the day you ever met me."
He was joking, but don't bet against him in his zeal to fight the disease.
The Smith gift is the largest private donation every received by the Harris County Hospital District. The previous highest gift was $10 million dedicated to children's health care from Richard and Ginni Mithoff. In recognition of the gift, the Trauma Center at Ben Taub General Hospital was named for the couple.