Robert Recker, MD’63, professor of medicine and director of Creighton’s Osteoporosis Research Center, was installed as the inaugural holder of the O’Brien Chair in Health Sciences during a campus ceremony on Sept. 28.
The chair was established through a generous gift from longtime Creighton supporters Richard O’Brien, MS’58, MD’60, and his wife, Joan Gurney O’Brien, SJN’55. Dr. O’Brien served as dean of the School of Medicine from 1982 to 1992 and vice president for Health Sciences from 1985 to 1999. He is currently a professor emeritus in Creighton’s Center for Health Policy and Ethics.
“The O’Briens share a deep love for Creighton University and our Jesuit, Catholic mission,” said Creighton University President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ. “This new endowed chair in the health sciences is a testament to their continued commitment to the success of the University and its faculty and students. We are grateful for their longtime dedication and service to Creighton.”
The O’Brien Chair in Health Sciences is the 39th endowed chair established at Creighton University, and the first new chair inaugurated at the University since 2013.
“Endowed chairs play an important role in a vibrant and robust university,” said Jeremy Bouman, interim vice president for University Relations. “They allow us to attract and retain outstanding faculty, providing support for innovative research, teaching and scholarship. They also provide an opportunity to recognize and honor dedicated donors, such as the O’Briens, and ensure that their legacy is permanently connected to Creighton’s academic mission.”
The O’Brien Chair in Health Sciences is unique at Creighton in that the chair holders will rotate between the School of Medicine and the College of Nursing.
Both Robert “Bo” Dunlay, MD’81, dean of the School of Medicine, and Catherine Todero, PhD, BSN’72, dean of the College of Nursing, expressed their gratitude to the O’Briens for establishing the endowed chair.
“This unique approach honors and celebrates both of their academic backgrounds, which are so important to them,” Todero said. “It also recognizes the importance of each of the professions, and the good work of the College of Nursing and the School of Medicine in terms of research, teaching and patient care.”
As the first holder of the O’Brien Chair, Recker said he is “incredibly grateful and humbled.”
Aside from a medical internship at Lackland Air Force Base and three years as a flight surgeon in the Air Force, Recker’s entire academic and professional life has been at Creighton. He joined the School of Medicine faculty in 1970, and has served as chief of the Division of Endocrinology since 1974 and director of Creighton’s Osteoporosis Research Center since 1986.
Recker is an internationally recognized expert in the field of metabolic bone disease. He and his colleagues identified a rare genetic mutation that contributes to high bone mass. “If you imagine the human genome as Interstate 80, stretching from the East Coast to the West, what we found was a crack in the pavement,” Recker said in announcing the discovery in 2001.
“Dr. Recker is an outstanding researcher and scientist,” said Dunlay. “His findings on the role of the LRP5 receptor protein in high bone mass was a seminal discovery in the field of bone biology. In addition, the Osteoporosis Research Center, which he directs, continues to be a leader in bone research and the study of osteoporosis, which affects millions of men and women and will continue to be a major health issue as our population ages.”
Recker said holding the O’Brien Chair is especially meaningful. “I have always had a great deal of affection and admiration for Dr. O’Brien,” Recker said. “He did great for Creighton. He was one of our best deans and vice presidents for health sciences.”
Dick O’Brien and Joan Gurney met while students at Creighton. Joan was in the nursing program at St. Joseph Hospital; Dick was a Creighton undergraduate preparing for medical school. Both were working at Our Lady of Victory, a psychiatric ward of the former Creighton-affiliated St. Joseph Hospital on 10th Street.
An uncooperative patient brought them together. “This young student nurse was being walked up and down the hall by a patient who had a tight grip on her elbow,” Dick recalled. “He just wasn’t going to let go,” Joan added. Dick interceded and helped lead the patient away. Two years later, they were married.
They feel blessed to have had Creighton as a central part of their lives, and they are excited to continue their commitment to the University’s future through the new endowed chair.
“We have spent more than half of our lives here, as students and as faculty members,” Dr. O’Brien said. “Obviously, that forges a pretty strong connection. We love the University, and we think it’s important to do whatever we can to help it flourish.”