In 1989, Dr. George Bray became the first executive director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center.
During his tenure, he oversaw the growth of Pennington Biomedical from a handful of employees and a million-dollar budget to a flourishing research center with more than 70 scientists, 350 employees and an annual budget of nearly $20 million.
At the time he was recruited, Dr. Bray was the Chief of Diabetes at the University of Southern California, one of the premier academic research institutions in the country. He recalls multiple interviews with leaders from the LSU System and the Baton Rouge community along with a tour of the building that, at the time, was “bereft of people” leading up to his acceptance of the position. “My initial challenge was convincing successful scientists with goals of academic excellence to come here and to secure grant funding,” Dr. Bray said.
“Doc” and Irene Pennington’s gift – at the time, the largest ever made to a public university – was “a gift of great help” in meeting that challenge, he said.
“I was also fortunate to be surrounded by excellent people, including Bill Silvia, David York, and Donna Ryan,” he said.
“We grew quickly,” he recalled. “I could promise people both space and money. We only took on people who could grow the institution. At first, we took on younger researchers, but gradually we were able to recruit senior researchers. Today, Pennington Biomedical is full of outstanding researchers and scientists at every level of their career.”
While he was accomplishing all of this on behalf of Pennington Biomedical, he continued to make major contributions to obesity research and practice. In 1993, he established the prestigious journal Obesity Research (now known as Obesity), and served as its editor-in-chief until 1997. He also founded the journal Endocrine Practice, serving as its editor-in-chief from 1995 to 1996.
In 1999, Dr. Bray was named an LSU Boyd Professor, the highest, most prestigious distinction awarded by the LSU Board of Supervisors to faculty members who attain national or international distinction for outstanding teaching, research or other creative achievement.
He has also been consistently named as one of the world’s most cited scientists according to the Google Scholar Citations database, but is humble in explaining its significance. “It’s what you do. For science, the job is to do creative research and to do work that helps further science.”
Reflecting on the philanthropist who made all of this possible, Dr. Bray said, “Mr. Pennington was always an inspiration to me in how persistence and a bit of luck can lead to a life of great reward.”
Today, Dr. John Kirwan, Executive Director of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, holds the George A. Bray, Jr. Endowed Super Chair in Nutrition. “It’s an honor to be named the Bray Super Chair and to be able to carry out his legacy. I had the great fortune of being recruited to Pennington Biomedical when it was already a well-established world-class research institution. Its status is due in large part to Dr. Bray’s accomplishments as a scientist, leader, strategist, and visionary. Much of the success you see here today is a direct result of Dr. Bray’s work and leadership,” Dr. Kirwan said.