UTMB evokes many emotions for Dr. Tom Purgason and his wife, Michele Purgason.
It’s where they met while they studied medicine and nursing. It’s where their daughter, Ashley, just received her doctoral degree. It’s also where their son’s dream to pursue internal medicine, like his father, was never realized.
Michael Gilles Purgason, 21, passed away last year after an automobile accident. At the time, he was a University of Texas student in the middle of the Summer Undergraduate Research Program at UTMB’s Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.
He was competitive, curious and often quoted Shakespeare.
After his death, the Arlington couple decided to honor their son’s passion for education by creating the non-profit Michael Gilles Purgason Foundation. One of the foundation’s first gifts was to UTMB to establish the Michael Gilles Purgason Memorial Scholarship Fund that benefits GSBS students. The foundation also contributed to the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, where a resident sleep room will be named in its honor.
“Tom and I loved UTMB,” said Michele Purgason, who graduated from the School of Nursing in 1979, the same year her husband graduated from medical school. “We just wanted Michael to have some sort of legacy there since he didn’t get to go.”
Dr. Purgason shared a similar sentiment: “We feel like that gives us another tie to the university. It’s imperative we support the university.”
He and his wife have done just that—devoting years of volunteer service to their alma mater as active members of numerous UTMB groups, including the Development Board
. Dr. Purgason is also now chairman of the Fort Worth Regional Leadership Council for the Working Wonders Campaign
and a member of the School of Medicine’s Alumni Board of Trustees.
Not only have they given their time to the campaign, the Purgasons have also contributed to the new Jennie Sealy Hospital
, which is at the heart of the $450 million fundraising effort. A consultation room in the new hospital will bear their names.
“UTMB has given us so much in our lives,” Dr. Purgason said. “Any success I’ve had in my medical practice all started at UTMB. I feel it’s a debt I can never repay.”
Dr. David L. Callender, UTMB president, said the Purgasons are an inspiration for their loyalty and devotion to the university.
“We are tremendously proud that the Purgasons are members of the UTMB family, and we are grateful for all they continue to do for this institution,” he said.
As active alumni, particularly through their involvement in the campaign, the Purgasons are committed to their roles as minders of the institution they love.
“I tell alumni to think about the time they spent at the medical school and their careers as physicians” Dr. Purgason said, “their success is primarily based on a foundation they received at UTMB. I tell them they should reach into their hearts and give according to what that’s worth.”
Michele Purgason, who manages her husband’s private practice, said she realized when she first began to practice nursing that her training was far superior to that of her colleagues. It’s critical, she said, that UTMB remain the kind of institution where students are better trained.
“I think people underestimate what a medical education is worth,” she said. “We will always be grateful to UTMB and we will always have a soft spot in our hearts for UTMB.”
The couple also has a son, Nicholas Purgason. Their daughter, Ashley Purgason, is now an associate dean of undergraduate research at the University of Texas at Arlington.