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Celebrating 21 years of the DMRF Kathryn Weldon Chair in Endowed Alzheimer’s Research, a position created through an estate gift from a dynamic philanthropist named Kathryn Allen Weldon.

Behind every great act of philanthropy, there is a fascinating story about a real person who wanted to make a significant difference in the world; the DMRF Kathryn Allen Weldon Endowed Chair in Alzheimer’s Research holds such a compelling tale. 21 years after its creation, Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation (DMRF) celebrates the woman behind this distinguished research chair position, currently held by globally acclaimed frailty and aging researcher, Dr. Kenneth Rockwood.

But who was Kathryn Allen Weldon?

Born in 1903, Kathryn, who preferred to be called Kaye, was a woman ahead of her time. Nicknamed “tigress” by many who knew her, Kaye balked at the societal constraints often imposed on women of her generation. The middle child of Grace and Harper Allen, Kaye studied fine arts at Mount Allison University and was thrilled to be accepted into medical school, where she planned to become a doctor. Unfortunately, life had different plans for Kaye, when her father insisted that only men should be doctors and that women should be nurses instead. Friends say it was the only time in Kaye’s life that she took no for an answer. Instead, Kaye studied art at the Pratt Institute before moving to Toronto where she became an interior decorator. There, Kaye met her first husband Ben Wait, a man who ran a family company and was only too happy to have his intelligent and determined wife take over the business side of operations.

Kaye Weldon WEB

By the time Kaye retired in her 70s, she had a long list of accomplishments—she sat on several charitable boards, was Canada’s representative to the International Organization of Manufacturers (where she also set up a program for the International Year of the Woman) and was a director of the DMRF Board. After her retirement, Kaye became a winter fixture in West Palm Beach Florida, where she was beloved and considered a “dowager” in the community. Despite lifelong health issues that become more significant with age, Kaye was always sporting high heels, glamourous clothing, and beautiful jewelry; she was also known for hosting lavish parties and for her generous and giving spirit.

An estate gift with great meaning

It was Kaye’s health issues that spurred her interest in health research, along with a commitment to giving back. Passing away at the age of 88 in 1997, DMRF learned that her estate had left the Foundation a significant gift in the sum of $1 million. Kaye had instructed that the gift be endowed and in support of outstanding health research in Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias; DMRF matched this gift with another $1 million investment.

In July of 2000, DMRF and the Faculty of Medicine at Dalhousie proudly announced the creation of the DMRF Kathryn Allen Weldon Endowed Chair in Alzheimer Research, the first fully funded endowed chair established at Dalhousie University in 50 years. The search began immediately for the ideal candidate, with aspirations of finding a distinguished scholar with an international reputation as a clinical or basic scientist, and an excellent record of publication, funding, and scientific accomplishment.

Dr. Kenneth Rockwood accepts the DMRF chair position at Dalhousie University

By the end of December 2001, the search was complete, and an outstanding candidate was found. In January of 2002, DMRF and Dalhousie’s Faculty of Medicine announced Dr. Kenneth Rockwood’s appointment to this prestigious chair at Dalhousie University. Dr. Rockwood was described by mentor and colleague, Dr. Colin Powell—who was a professor of geriatric medicine at McMaster University— as “…one of the brightest stars in Canadian Geriatric research…[with] one of his greatest attributes [being] his ability for innovative thinking… [and] an individual of highest integrity, complete dependability, honesty, a lively sense of humour, and a zest for discovery and determination”.

Rockwood 2019
Dr. Kenneth Rockwood - Winner of the prestigious Ryman Prize

Dr. Powell’s words have certainly rung true, as Dr. Rockwood’s illustrious career has seen him impact the health and wellness of older people around the globe. Notably, Dr. Rockwood and the late Dr. Arnold Mitnitski created the frailty index, which is used globally to measure the health status of older individuals and serves as a proxy measure of aging and vulnerability to poor outcomes. The DMRF Kathryn Allen Weldon Endowed Chair gave Dr. Rockwood the freedom to explore critical and unchartered territories of the research area.

“The work on frailty and the research on Alzheimer disease came together fully in 2019,” says Dr. Rockwood. “In that year, with an exceptional young PhD student, Lindsay Wallace, my colleagues and I were able to demonstrate that frailty was an important risk for late-life dementia. That body of work opens up new possibilities in both dementia treatment and prevention.”

We’re quite sure the tenacious, vibrant, and intelligent Kaye would have been pleased that her investment has, and continues to, hold such impressive outcomes.

DMRF funds prominent local health research thanks to the generosity of our donors, wise counsel of our Board of Directors, commitment of our staff, and exceptional talent of our researchers.