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Transformative Gift Raises Scleroderma Center’s Impact

Date: October 27, 2014


Fred Wigley and Mary McCrory
Rheumatologist Fred Wigley visited grateful donor Mary McCrory in 2005, a year after McCrory’s daughter, Martha (framed photo), died in 2004. Mary McCrory died in 2012. Her bequest turned out to be far more valuable than anticipated.

Martha McCrory lived the life she dreamed. After graduating from Northwestern University in Illinois in 1956, she spent two years living in Florence, Italy, amid the fine and decorative arts of the Renaissance. After earning a Ph.D. in the history of art at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, she returned to Florence to conduct various research projects.

Several years later, McCrory settled in Baltimore and worked for the Walters Art Museum, lecturing and publishing extensively on aspects of art in the Renaissance period, with a particular interest in dress and jewelry. McCrory also served as an adjunct professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology and became interested in gem engraving. She traveled throughout Europe, Asia and Africa, frequently with her devoted mother, Mary, of Kansas City, Missouri.

In 2002, when Martha was in her 60s, she was diagnosed with the autoimmune disease scleroderma and came to Johns Hopkins for treatment because of the international reputation of Fredrick Wigley and his work through Johns Hopkins’ Scleroderma Center. During her daughter’s two-year struggle with the disease, Mary, then in her 90s, often accompanied her to appointments. When Martha died in 2004, her mother was so touched by the care and comfort provided by Wigley and his team that she wanted to find a meaningful way to show her appreciation.

During a visit to Baltimore in 2005, Mary and her son Donald started making gifts to support Wigley’s research. Mary continued to think of other ways to help. “She did not want to have another mother lose a daughter to this disease,” says Tom Malstrom, senior associate director of development at the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine.

In 2007, Mary took steps to leave a bequest intention to fund the Martha A. McCrory Endowed Chair for Scleroderma Research at Johns Hopkins. Her estate included farmland she thought was valued at $3 million but turned out to be worth more than twice that amount. 

The McCrorys were financially savvy, says Chuck Turner, former director of development for the Department of Medicine. Mary’s late husband, Kenneth, had founded a manufacturing company that produced farm radios and wind chargers to generate electricity. The company also pioneered the electric fencing industry.

“Mary looked like anybody’s Midwestern grandma,” Turner recalls, “and when I’d visit, I’d find her reading the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal.” Mary died in 2012 at age 102.

In April, the endowed chair was officially presented to Wigley. The gift will support the Scleroderma Center in all of its missions, says Wigley, including providing excellent patient care; educating patients, trainees and physicians on how to care for people with the disease; and conducting new research, including finding ways to better treat the disease and better understand how it works. 

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