Gary Reece is no stranger to philanthropy. Barbara, his wife of 37 years, spent her career as a professional philanthropist for many Denver nonprofits. His former boss also donated to multiple causes and encouraged his employees to do the same.
While Gary got behind his wife’s causes, attending multiple local benefits and galas, he didn’t directly involve himself in the fundraising until 2008. That year, after 20 years of service as a financial executive at M.D.C. Holdings, Inc., Gary retired and quickly found his cause—cancer research.
“I guess you can say I’ve learned from the best when it comes to getting behind great causes,” Gary says.
Since cancer has claimed the lives of several members of the Reece family, including Gary’s father and Barb’s grandmother, it was natural for the couple to join Cancer League of Colorado, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that raises money to support cancer research in Colorado.
“Cancer League of Colorado is made up of people who have been touched by cancer and want to do something to keep the ones they love alive,” Gary says.
At the time of Gary’s retirement, Barbara was already serving as president of the organization. Naturally, Gary found himself assuming a leadership role; and in 2009 he was elected to take over as president. He is serving his second term.
“I enjoy working with people who are passionate about what they do,” says Gary. “It’s most rewarding when we’re able to pull the dollars together to fund projects that make a difference and eventually gain the attention and additional funding from the National Institutes of Health.”
Filling a unique niche, Cancer League provides seed grants for promising yet untested cancer research projects—the types of grants no other funder offers on a systematic basis in the Rocky Mountain region.
Scores of University of Colorado Cancer Center researchers have earned these grants and parlayed them into far larger grants from federal funders such as the National Institutes of Health when these early research investigations proved to be fruitful lines of inquiry.
In September 2011, Cancer League made its largest pledge to the CU Cancer Center when it announced it would commit $2 million toward
an endowed chair, a step further in advancing world-class cancer research here in Colorado, says Dan Theodorescu, MD, PhD, center director and professor of surgery and pharmacology at the CU School of Medicine.
“Cancer League of Colorado has helped the Cancer Center fund innovative science in the pursuit of our goal of relieving suffering from cancer,” Theodorescu says. “We may use this chair to recruit an eminent cancer scientist who will lead and pursue innovative cancer research in areas of strategic importance to our center.”
In discussions with Cancer Center leaders, Gary asked, “How can we have the greatest impact in the fight against cancer in the state of Colorado?”
“It became very clear that, to be one of the best cancer centers in the country, we need the best doctors,” he says. “Some of these doctors
cannot be recruited without the benefit of an endowed chair.”
This year, Cancer League didn’t stop its funding with an endowed chair. In July, it distributed an additional $600,000 in seed grants to 18 CU Cancer Center investigators, totaling more than $10 million in grants to the Cancer Center since 1985. By funding innovative cancer research projects, Cancer League has played a key early-stage role in treatments and tests that directly benefit cancer patients around the world, including sputum testing that aids noninvasive diagnosis of lung cancers.
Many of these grants, which are selected by a scientific advisory committee that includes Cancer Center members and other researchers, wind up generating $20 in federal research funding for every dollar they grant to a researcher in seed funding.
“We want to make sure all researchers in Colorado know that we are here to help fund their research projects and we hope to continue to grow our research grant program to fund even more great projects in Colorado,” Gary says.
While Gary may have planned to spend his retirement on the golf course, he now spends his time meeting with cancer researchers, managing Cancer League’s day-to-day operations, and helping his family further their careers and devotions.
“If being a part of the Cancer League wasn’t fun and I wasn’t enjoying it, I wouldn’t be a part of it,” he says.