What began as a love story, with the Count motivated by his ailing wife, became an array of programs that helps scientific careers in their nascent stage, promotes the return of talent to Italy, and encourages the best researchers in each country to collaborate. The insistence on excellence, an understanding of the crucial role basic science plays in our battle against human disease, and an abiding interest in improving the human condition were basic tenets that fueled his actions. However, it is rare and special to be able to translate those principles into productive activities.
Our founder understood the importance of creating a lasting legacy, and we will continue to honor his memory under the leadership of his son, Giampiero. All of us associated with this organization feel fortunate to have known him and pride at being able to continue the work that was his brainchild. The flag at Harvard Medical School flew at half-staff on October 29, 2013, in the Count’s honor. Jeffrey Flier, Dean of the Medical School and the Armenise-Harvard Foundation’s president, expressed the sorrow of the HMS community in the following letter.
Dear Members of the Harvard Medical School Community,
It is with deep sadness that I share with you news of the passing of Count Giovanni (Nino) Auletta Armenise, a generous benefactor and great friend of HMS. The Count died this past Friday at his home in Rome, at the age of 81.
Count Armenise, an Italian industrialist and international banker, created the Giovanni Armenise-Harvard Foundation for Scientific Research in 1996, endowing it with more than $50 million to advance research in the basic biological sciences. In 2000, Building D on the HMS Quad was renamed the Giovanni Auletta Armenise Medical Research Building to honor the greatest philanthropist in HMS history.
The Foundation was created following the death of Nino’s wife, Dianora Bertacchini, who had been treated at Massachusetts General Hospital for a brain tumor. The couple, realizing that no therapies existed to alter the trajectory of her disease, were determined to help fund scientific research that would provide hope for future generations.
Early in his career, Count Armenise managed a pharmaceutical company in Italy that manufactured penicillin. His interest in medical research was long-standing, despite his educational background in economics and business. Evidence of the Count’s beneficence is readily apparent today all around the Quad. A few examples include:
- Two Armenise-Harvard professorships were established in 2008, with Professors Stephen Harrison (professor of basic biomedical science, HMS) and Verne Caviness (professor of neurology at Mass General) named as the first incumbents. In 2013, Professor Tracy Batchelor replaced Professor Caviness.
- For the past 17 years, each of the HMS preclinical departments have benefited from interdepartmental grants provided by the Foundation.
- The Foundation has spurred the scientific research of 42 HMS junior faculty by providing important seed funding early in their careers.
- Since its inception, the Foundation has provided more than $36 million for annual grants to help fund the Dean’s highest priorities.
- Post-doctoral fellowships allowed Italian researchers to pursue their research goals at Harvard and then return to Italy, where the Foundation helped establish their own labs at leading scientific institutes.
- For 13 years, 27 Italian journalists have participated in a media fellowship at HMS, where they interview renowned scientists and meet with members of the media.
- A biennial symposium has provided opportunities for Harvard and Italian scientists to present papers and exchange ideas.
The Count’s munificence has borne fruit in many ways. As a former banker, he was interested in investing in young talent, with emphasis on grant programs that offer seed money to young researchers, helping post-docs make the transition to principal investigator—in both countries. He was also interested in providing venues where more senior scientists could learn from one another, at symposia and scholarly meetings. Since the Foundation was created, hundreds of scientists and students have benefited from both financial assistance and intellectual stimulation.
We honor the Count’s memory and many contributions by lowering the HMS flag to half-staff today. For more information, visit The Giovanni Armenise Harvard Foundation.
It was a great honor to call the Count a personal friend and to spend time with him in Italy. His vision and generous contributions have advanced the mission of our School, ensuring that his legacy will endure at HMS for generations. Please join me in extending our heartfelt sympathy to his son, Giampiero Auletta Armenise, and his family, as well as to members of the Foundation who work so diligently to advance his goals and extend the boundaries of scientific knowledge.
Jeffrey S. Flier, MD
Dean of the Faculty of Medicine