Lowry Mays — cancer philanthropist, survivor, warrior

Mays Cancer Center philanthropist Lowry Mays pictured with his family.
Pictured left to right: Peggy Mays, Lowry Mays, daughter Kathryn Mays Johnson and her husband, Bill.

On Jan. 30, 2018, a “notable blow was struck against cancer” when UT Health San Antonio President William L. Henrich, MD, MACP, announced that the Mays Family Foundation was increasing its legacy gift supporting the UT Health San Antonio cancer center to $30 million.

As an enthusiastic crowd of faculty, staff, public officials and dignitaries gathered that day, Henrich next announced that in recognition and appreciation of that generosity, the UT System Board of Regents authorized naming the cancer center the Mays Cancer Center.

“Today marks the beginning of a new era for our cancer center, an inflection point in its storied history, a history the Mays family knows very well,” Henrich said in thanking the family led by Lowry and Peggy Mays, and the foundation.

Bringing cancer care home

“Cancer has been aptly called the ‘emperor of all maladies,’ the disease which is the most difficult to diagnose accurately and treat with precision,” Henrich continued. “Defeating its complexity requires leading-edge science, teamwork, perseverance and courage, each in equal measure.”

In asking who would benefit most from the exceptional generosity of the Mays Family Foundation, Henrich said, “Let’s not forget that the overwhelming major beneficiaries of this gift are patients who will seek and receive lifesaving care here.”

“Here” has always been important to the Mays family, as Kathryn Mays Johnson, president of the Mays Family Foundation and daughter of Lowry and Peggy, confirmed in representing her parents and the foundation at the announcement of the gift.

“My parents’ vision has always been to strengthen this community, the community in which they live, the community in which we live,” said Johnson.

“It is our hope that this will be a place close to home where all of San Antonio and South Texas can come when they hear those words ‘You have cancer.’ And I can assure you, those words are life altering,” said Johnson. “Almost everyone is touched in some way by cancer, and our family is no different.”

Both Johnson and her brother are cancer survivors, as were both of their parents.

Time as well as resources

The Mays family’s gifts to cancer care and research at UT Health San Antonio date back to the cancer center’s inception in 1974. In addition to their support for UT Health San Antonio and the Mays Cancer Center across nearly five decades, the Mays family has supported MD Anderson Cancer Center, bringing their cumulative giving to the two University of Texas System institutions to more than $50 million.

But Lowry Mays, who died Sept. 12, 2022, and his wife, Peggy Mays, who died Nov. 11, 2020, are also remembered for their steadfast support of cancer patients not only as longtime philanthropic supporters of the cancer center, but also through their tireless work over the years to raise awareness and funding for cancer research and patient care.

Peggy, a former member of the board of governors of the cancer center, founded the cancer center’s highly successful annual fund program — the Cabinet — in 1996. Over the program’s 21-year history, nearly $8 million in gifts was raised to provide essential support for innovative cancer research, state-of-the-art equipment and critical cancer education and patient care programs.

That commitment to volunteerism runs in the family. Daughter Kathryn served as a president of the SA Cancer Council (formerly the Cancer Center Council), which has likewise supported Mays Cancer Center through fundraising efforts, contributing nearly $6 million to the cancer center over the course of 37 years to aid community outreach, education and patient assistance.

Today, the legacy contributions from the Mays Family Foundation have provided an endowment to perpetually support the director of the Mays Cancer Center and to establish permanent distinguished endowed chairs to fund key faculty recruitment and retention.

The gift also established the Mays Cancer Center Excellence Endowment to support top priorities for future success and long-term sustainability for generations to come.

The Peggy and Lowry Mays Patient Care Endowment provides funds for the Mays Cancer Center’s Patient Supportive Care Program, which offers critical services for cancer patients with the greatest financial needs. Through the endowment, patients can also access wellness and survivorship programs that help them lead healthier lives after they complete treatment.

A gift to many you may never meet

“Lowry and Peggy Mays were the epitome of committed citizens to San Antonio, and they believed deeply in the missions of our Mays Cancer Center — to care for everyone and, through leading-edge research, to pledge our unrelenting effort to reduce the burden of cancer for generations to come,” said Henrich.

“This remarkable San Antonio family has made a significant investment in our region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Cancer Center to make exceptional, comprehensive cancer care a reality for South Texans,” said Henrich. “Their gift of generosity and love is a lasting treasure of incalculable value.”


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