William and Sandra Bennett
William and Sandra Bennett
Supporters of the William and Sandra Bennett Clinical Scholars Program
The William and Sandra Bennett Clinical Scholars Program was established in 2013 through a generous gift from former ASN President William M. Bennett, MD, FASN, and his wife Sandra with the goal of producing the next generation of clinician educators. In the following interview, recorded in July 2020, Dr. and Mrs. Bennett share more about their motivations and interests.
How did you first get involved with the American Society of Nephrology (ASN)?
WILLIAM "BILL" M. BENNETT, MD, FASN: I was training in nephrology at Mass General and I went to an ASN meeting in 1968. It was in Washington, DC and I drove down with another fellow from my program. We went to the meeting and decided nephrology was for us, so joined the ASN.
I was the first elected councilor to the ASN Council. Before that, new councilors were selected by those who were already in office. They opened it up for an election and I was one of three people on the ballot. I got elected, surprisingly. I say it was a surprise at the time because I was a regular kidney doctor and not a basic investigator. I spent years on the Council and became ASN President in 1998.
Your generous commitment in 2013 established the William and Sandra Bennett Clinical Scholars Program. What motivated you to make this gift and why do you think it is important to support clinician educators?
BILL: My wife and I were at a place in life where our kids were all doing okay and we were looking at our investments, retirement, and other assets. It is Sandra's goal to give all the money away.
SANDRA S. BENNETT: I told him if he kept working past the age of retirement, I was going to give away all of his salary.
BILL: I worked at Oregon Health and Sciences University from 1970 through 1999, so I got retirement from the state of Oregon, and as Sandra said, she wanted to give everything else away. We started picking favorite charities and causes and I picked the ASN Foundation (it wasn't called that then). I saw the need within academic medicine across all divisions of nephrology for clinicians who actively saw patients and could inspire the next generation. It used to be that most of the leaders in nephrology were basic researchers who weren't always good teachers or clinical role models. I wanted to fund a mechanism to support clinician educators.
In your opinion, what is the most important work that KidneyCure (the ASN Foundation) does?
BILL: I think all the initiatives that are supporting research, innovation, and training of the next generation of nephrologists for the 'real world' are important for the survival of our discipline and the betterment of the health of the population. There are so many innovations that it's hard to pick out one.
I think it's wonderful how recent leaders of ASN and the foundation, such as Ron Falk, Sharon Moe and Tom Coffman, have had the vision to ramp up programming and take a broader look beyond funding basic research grants.
What are some other causes and organizations you support?
SANDRA: It's a long list. We have a required minimum distribution (RMD) from Bill's retirement account every year, which can be spent on charitable donations. We typically distribute the required minimum RMD to a variety of charities every year, which is a fun thing to do. The balance of the RMD is put into a Vanguard Charitable donor-advised fund so we can distribute funds later. Besides KidneyCure, we've contributed to the Children's Home Society of Washington, Donate Life Northwest, Hillsdale College, Judicial Watch, Paralyzed Veterans of America, the Parent TV Council, PKD Foundation, Salvation Army, Good Samaritan Foundation for the Bennett Chair in Transplant Medicine and more. It's pretty varied, but many have to do with supporting children in the US and internationally.
BILL: We are also very involved in drug prevention and education. In 1986, we tragically lost our oldest son at age 22 when he was a student at the University of Oregon from a drug related incident which caused a fatal cardiac arrest. It was a life-changing event and since then we've been fighting against the legalization of illicit psychoactive and addictive drugs. Sandra is also devoted to drug prevention education towards children. It's a difficult subject due to societal changes. The media often portrays drug use as innocent fun, but the toll on families that lose children is enormous. And until you experience it, you can't really understand it.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
BILL: I am very passionate about baseball and we have a one-year old puppy. I also read a lot.
SANDRA: I write and do other computer-based activities for my work in drug prevention education. And I garden.
BILL: We also like to visit our children and grandchildren (when we can), who live in Hawaii, Seattle, Portland, and the Philippines.
SANDRA: We have a very large, diverse family: a garden of nations.