The title of the book was, I think, intended as a compliment.
“Oklahoma’s Hidden Treasure” was published in 1998, on the heels of OMRF’s 50th anniversary. The foundation commissioned the work to capture the institution’s history, from inception until the then-present. The book’s author, W. Landon Young, wrote that he hoped his work would spark more people’s awareness
With OMRF’s new 77 for 77 campaign, we’re trying to do this same thing. Because we’re modeling this initiative on our founding campaign three-quarters of a century ago, Young’s work has become something of a bible for us. And having now thumbed through its pages more times than I can count, I’ve increasingly found my mind wandering to its title.
Obviously, I’m biased, but I agree wholeheartedly with the characterization of OMRF as a “treasure.” Our scientists’ work has given birth to three life-changing drugs, and OMRF research on conditions ranging from HIV/AIDS to lupus has shifted the paradigms of not only how these diseases are understood, but also how they are treated.
Likewise, I’m all in on the idea that OMRF is Oklahoma’s treasure. Even though we’re an independent nonprofit and not a state entity, we belong to the state whose name we share. We wouldn’t exist but for the support of thousands of Oklahomans whose gifts transformed the idea of a medical research foundation into laboratories and clinics filled with scientists and physicians. Indeed, it’s that same generosity that helps sustain us today.
It’s the word “hidden” that gives me pause.
On one hand, I get it. If everyone knew who we were and all we’ve done, we wouldn’t need an awareness campaign. Yet it nevertheless strikes me that, a full 25 years after Young’s book, we continue to scale that same mountain.
Meanwhile, in the scientific world, OMRF is anything but unknown. We’re one of only eight National Institutes of Health Autoimmunity Centers of Excellence. OMRF researchers regularly publish their work in the world’s leading scientific journals. And our own Dr. Judith James was recently elected to the National Academy of Medicine, one of the field’s highest honors.
The challenge, as 77 for 77 campaign co-chair and former Oklahoma First Lady Cathy Keating says, “is to let all Oklahomans know about the world-class research that is being done right here.” In other words, we want people in our home state to think of us in the same way that the national and international research community already does.
The world looks a lot different than it did in 1947, when OMRF launched its first awareness campaign. For one thing, there are many more organizations out there competing for attention. Likewise, the avenues for spreading information have mushroomed.
Still, when it comes to making an impression, I’m kind of old-fashioned. I like to meet people in person. I want to shake your hand, hear the timbre of your voice, look you in the eye. That’s why, in the coming year, our OMRF team will be coming to your community as part of our 77 for 77 campaign.
When you get your invitation, we hope you’ll accept. We also hope you’ll bring friends. Because we’re excited not only to reconnect with our OMRF family, but also to welcome new members. If we do our job well, that next edition of the OMRF history book won’t require the word “hidden” in its title.
Read more from the Summer/Fall 2023 issue of Findings