Columbus connection, need for neurologists result in Gilbert-Willis Chair at UMMC
Published on Monday, August 15, 2022
By: Annie Oeth, email@example.com
Robert I. Gilbert Jr. grew up in Columbus, and though his studies and career took him from north Mississippi, his heart never left.
Shared connections to Columbus and north Mississippi between Gilbert and Dr. James Keeton, University of Mississippi Medical Center professor emeritus and former vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine, sparked a friendship and interest in helping their home state.
Learning of the state’s shortage of neurologists and meeting neurology chair Dr. Alissa Willis through Keeton led Gilbert and Willis to pledge funds toward an endowed chair. The chair will be named the Robert I. Gilbert Jr.-Dr. M. Alissa Willis Endowed Chair of Neurology.
“The concern for the medical needs of Mississippi shows the love Dr. Gilbert has for his home state,” said Dr. LouAnn Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “We applaud his generosity and that of Dr. Willis. These gifts will help in increasing the number of neurologists in the state.”
The United States has a “large mismatch” between the need for neurological services and the availability of neurologists, according to a report from the American Academy of Neurology. “Patients with neurologic disorders are rising in prevalence and require access to high-level care to reduce disability,” the report stated.
“Mississippi, in the last few years, has lost more neurologists than we’ve added,” Willis said. “Our goal is not only to increase the number of neurologists but also to add more experience in several subspecialty areas of neurology.”
Advances in treatments for multiple sclerosis, migraine headache, epilepsy, brain tumors, Alzheimer’s disease, amyloid neuropathy and spinal muscular atrophy call for more neurologists with subspecialty training,” she said. “It’s important to me that Mississippians have access to these new and potentially life changing therapies and that means we need to improve access to the neurologists who know how to use them.”
Gilbert, who earned a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Massachusetts before embarking on a successful career in real estate in Memphis, said Keeton, a fellow Lee High alumnus, had approached him about the need for neurologists in the state.
Keeton then invited Gilbert to visit the School of Medicine and Willis.
“I was very impressed with what she has accomplished and decided that providing the seed money for an endowed chair in neurology would be a good thing to do,” Gilbert said.
Keeton, a native of Columbus who was once an elementary school student at the Demonstration School at Mississippi University for Women, and Gilbert, whose father was the chair of sociology at MUW for 40 years, became friends through their shared background and interests. Willis is a 1998 graduate of the Mississippi School for Mathematics and Science at MUW.
“Bob is a generous and extremely intelligent man who has traveled the world but whose heart is in Mississippi,” Keeton said. “He wants to make the state a better place through supporting health care and medical education.”
Willis said the new chair will help in attracting experts in neurology to the School of Medicine.
“This will improve the training we provide to neurology residents and all future physicians,” she said, “since they will graduate with a better understanding of neurologic conditions.”
To make donations toward the neurology chair, visit umc.edu/givenow and write “Gilbert-Willis Chair” in the comments area or send checks by mail to UMMC Development Accounting at 2500 N. State St., Jackson, MS 39216 with “Gilbert-Willis chair” in the memo line. Contact Meredith Aldridge, UMMC executive director of development, at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more.