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Former CVS head gives University of Rhode Island its largest gift ever

A statue of the ram mascot of the University of Rhode Island sits outside the school's Welcome Center in Kingston, R.I. (Lane Turner/Globe Staff/File)
A statue of the ram mascot of the University of Rhode Island sits outside the school's Welcome Center in Kingston, R.I. (Lane Turner/Globe Staff/File)Lane Turner/Globe Staff

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KINGSTON, R.I. — Former CVS chief executive Thomas M. Ryan and his wife are giving $35 million to the University of Rhode Island to bolster a neuroscience institute, scholarships, and URI basketball — the largest private donation in the state university’s history.

Ryan told the Globe that his father, George Ryan, died of Alzheimer’s disease eight years ago, and his mother, Anne Ryan, “died taking care of him.” So in 2013, the Ryans provided $15 million — then the largest private gift in URI history — to establish the George & Anne Ryan Institute for Neuroscience at URI.

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Now, Ryan and his wife, Cathy Ryan, are donating $35 million, including $24 million for the neuroscience institute, which works on the prevention and treatment of disorders such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and ALS.

“It’s a societal tsunami that is coming our way with Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases,” Ryan said. “This [donation] will allow us to add more research faculty, expand our wet labs, and just go deeper and broader in research.”

Ryan, a 1975 URI graduate who chairs the URI Foundation and Alumni Engagement, said he hopes the institute will discover ways to slow the progression of diseases such as Alzheimer’s. “The ultimate goal,” he said, “is to find treatment that will stop the disease.”

The gift includes $10 million to provide full four-year scholarships for high-achieving students across all disciplines. The first Thomas M. Ryan Scholars will enroll in fall 2020.

“I wanted to get some of the leading students around the country that may have not chosen URI for a variety of reasons and give them an incentive to come to URI,” Ryan said.

The gift also includes $1 million to help improve training facilities for URI men’s and women’s basketball.

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“The basketball team has taken it to another level and our facilities have to keep up with that,” Ryan said.

Ryan, who received a degree in pharmacy from URI and was CEO at CVS from 1999 to 2011, has contributed a total of $56 million to the university over the years.

URI president David Dooley said the Ryans have been “dedicated advocates” for the university.

“This extraordinary gift demonstrates their commitment to all aspects of the URI experience, including the mission of academic excellence within our student body, the vital research taking place in the Ryan Institute for Neuroscience, and the community spirit that comes from excellence in athletics,” he said.


Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FitzProv.