The John M. and Jocelyn H.K. Watkins Distinguished Chair in Cell Therapies Established

Watkins Distinguished Chair Established at The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis

January 30, 2013 – The Miami Project at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine announced the establishment of The John M. and Jocelyn H.K. Watkins Distinguished Chair in Cell Therapies at a celebratory dinner at The Miami Project on Tuesday, January 29th.  The Chair, to be named in the near future, will be used to support a leading researcher in cell therapies as part of The Miami Project’s mission of finding solutions to the problems of spinal cord and brain injuries.

The evening included touching tributes from Miami Project founders Dr. Barth Green and Nick and Marc Buoniconti.  University of Miami President Donna Shalala, Dean of the Miller School of Medicine Dr. Pascal Goldschmidt, and Miami Project Scientific Director Dr. Dalton Dietrich also shared some moving words about John and Jocelyn Watkins during the inspirational evening.

“By coincidence or by destiny, this year will mark the 25 years of our association with The Miami Project and it is an honor to bring to fruition something that John and I talked about for quite a long time.  My wish and my hope is with the establishment of this endowed chair, it offers another step forward to the day our scientists will succeed in finding that which we have all been looking and praying for, and to be able to announce to the world in the not too distant future that they have found a cure for spinal cord injuries,” said Jocelyn Watkins.

“We are so happy to celebrate the contributions of Jo and her extraordinary husband John in helping us move forward in a continued leadership role in cellular therapies.  Their friendship over the past few decades has been instrumental in our success as an organization,” said Dr. Green.

Jocelyn Watkins and her late husband John are generous but unlikely philanthropists.  John was severely spinal cord injured, becoming a quadriplegic by a rogue wave while on vacation in St. Lucia in August of 1987.  His body was broken but not his brilliant mind or his loving heart, leading he and Jo to many generous acts.  They established the Fa Bené Foundation, originally established in 1989 to support The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and other charities that touched their hearts.

“John was a true gentleman and this gift will allow us to bring in another top of the line investigator.  We hope to remember his spirit with this gift which will allow us to get even closer to our goal of a cure for paralysis,” said Marc Buoniconti.

John was an executive at Colgate Palmolive Company where he enjoyed a rapid ascent as a corporate officer and Senior Executive Vice President.  In his career he developed marketing strategy, which according to Ian Cook, the present Colgate Chairman, President and CEO, that even today, “casts an enormous shadow at Colgate.”  Showing great strength after his accident, John used his business know how to lecture at the University of Miami’s School of Business and he enjoyed every moment.

“John and Jocelyn Watkins have been good friends to The University of Miami and The Miami Project.  They have given generously over the years and have made a difference in countless lives in this community and beyond.  Before his passing, John couldn’t move much of his body, but each day helped to move others to help those less fortunate,” noted Shalala.

In addition to a sharp mind and warm heart, those close to John will also recall his keen sense of humor, often quoting, “As a quadriplegic, I don’t wear out shoes.” He was also very spiritual and dedicated to his Church and family. He was passionate about children, particularly those in harm’s way around the world.

On January 3, 2010, The Miami Herald included John in an article about people who made a difference in the community.  John was selected from scores of Miami’s movers and shakers.

At John’s memorial service at St. Christopher’s on February 6, 2009, Dr. Barth Green, who heads The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis and who treated John after he was life-flighted in from St. Lucia, recalled that “his chances of survival were poor at best.” John lived on for over 20 years helping those in need in our community and beyond.