GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine has received nearly $6 million from the estates of two South Florida cattle ranch owners, Harriet Weeks and her daughter, Robin Weeks. The largest private gifts ever received by the college, the monies are eligible for matching funds from the state of Florida major gifts trust fund, which would raise the total to $12 million.
The gifts will be used to create an endowed chair in veterinary medicine and an endowed professorship in bovine medicine, as well as an endowed fund to support teaching, research and programs at the college. UF veterinary administrators say the gifts will be especially helpful in bolstering the area of bovine health, which is facing critical shortages in veterinary medicine in both the public and private sectors. The bovine professorship may help attract more students to this particular field and enhance disease research in this area, administrators say.
“In this time of decreasing state budgetary support, endowments are critical,” said the college's dean, Glen Hoffsis, D.V.M. “For our college to receive two endowed positions simultaneously is just extraordinary.”
A previous installment of $1 million from the Robin Weeks estate enabled the college to meet its $4 million private funding goal and to obtain $57 million in state funding for a new small animal hospital.
The most recent gifts consist of $3.5 million from Robin Weeks' estate and $950,000 from the estate of Harriet Weeks, earmarked to the UF veterinary college. An additional gift of approximately $500,000 is expected when the estates are totally settled.
“Harriet and Robin were both schoolteachers and part-time ranchers until Robin's father and brother passed away,” said accountant Robert Richardson, a trustee for the Weekses' estate. “Not wealthy people, the Weekses sacrificed heavily to retain their land and to run a 300-head cattle ranch.
“Their family was not a typical one to make such a large bequest,” Richardson added. “Harriet and Robin made their decision because of their commitment to Florida agriculture and love of small animals, as well as their desire to help veterinary students through education and research.”
Mike McNulty, a mixed-animal practitioner and a member of the college's class of '83, was Robin Weeks' veterinarian and friend for many years. McNulty worked with Weeks' four herds of Brangus cattle, advising her on health and production management.
“I'll never forget, a few years before she died, I was leaving her ranch late on a Saturday afternoon and I told her, ‘I'm going to stop and get a lottery ticket.' She immediately replied, ‘You've already won the lottery.'”
McNulty added, “I looked at her quizzically and she explained, ‘With your education, you've already won the lottery.' She knew education was a sure ticket, if not to wealth and riches, at least to a better life. I've never forgotten that afternoon and appreciate it greatly every time I think about it.”
Some time later, he met with Weeks at her home and shared with her his intent to include the UF veterinary college in his own estate plans.
“I think that registered in her mind,” he said. “She said she wanted me to give her information about how to make a gift to the veterinary college. I then put her in touch with the college's development office and her plans unfolded from that point.”
Harriet Weeks died in February 2005 and Robin Weeks died shortly thereafter. The majority of their estate assets consisted of agricultural real estate in Glades County.
“I'm pleased that Dr. McNulty has remained so loyal to the college, and that he felt he received such a great veterinary education here,” Hoffsis said. “He was able to use his education for his clients' benefit, and in doing so, helped the Weekses create their legacy through these substantial gifts.”