On June 23, 1946, E.K. Gaylord joined a group of the state’s leading businessmen and physicians for a strategic planning meeting in Oklahoma City. As the publisher of The Daily Oklahoman, the state’s largest and most influential newspaper, Gaylord’s input—and endorsement—had a major impact.
Within two months, that gathering spawned a new venture. It would be an institute where scientists and physicians could devote their careers to understanding human disease. And Gaylord’s role in leading and supporting that new institute, OMRF, would become a model that continues in his family to this day.
Gaylord joined OMRF’s board of directors in 1950, two months before the foundation first opened its doors. He served on OMRF’s board until his death in 1974, playing a key role in guiding the foundation as it grew from a handful of scientists into one of the nation’s leading independent medical research institutes.
Edward L. Gaylord followed in his father’s footsteps as head of the family’s publishing company and also found his place on OMRF’s board of directors, serving as chairman from 1983 to 1997. Gaylord often injected his wry sense of humor into otherwise dry proceedings. “When you least expected it, Ed would call on you to explain something and then use the time as a chance to make a joke,” says Dr. William Thurman, who served as OMRF’s president from 1979 until 1997. “He really had a wicked sense of humor and used it to his advantage at the podium.”
Gaylord and his wife, Thelma, took a personal interest in OMRF, as well, and in 1991, they established the Edward L. and Thelma Gaylord Prize, which is presented to foundation scientists for outstanding contributions to research. “I remember we sealed the deal for the Gaylord Prize in true Ed Gaylord fashion, not with a big fancy dinner but, instead, over hamburgers at Johnnie’s,” Thurman says.
Gaylord, says Thurman, was “an absolute bear about the importance of working in and giving back to your community.” Gifts from Gaylord, as well as from his father and various trusts and foundations associated with the family, provided OMRF with funds for endowed chairs, special events and numerous campus expansion and renovation projects. And, says Thurman, “He never hesitated to encourage or even push others to do the same, often leading with the line, ‘Oklahoma needs this.’”
In 2008, a third generation of the Gaylord family took its place in foundation history when Christy Gaylord Everest joined OMRF’s board. “My grandfather once said that ‘the research laboratories of today will plot the course of the world tomorrow,’ and I know he meant it,” says Everest, who also helmed the family’s publishing company. “We’ve learned by his example to invest in causes that matter, like OMRF.”
As OMRF has grown, the Gaylord family’s generosity has helped OMRF remain firmly on a path of research excellence. In 2010, the Gaylord Family Foundation made a $5 million gift to fund construction of OMRF’s research tower. And in 2012, the family pledged another $1 million to help expand OMRF’s cancer research programs.
“It’s important to find better ways to prevent and manage diseases like cancer, arthritis and Alzheimer’s,” says Everest. “The quality of the people doing research at OMRF demonstrates the effectiveness of our gifts. We believe in OMRF’s mission.”