Nobel Laureate George Smith donates prize money to MU

George P. Smith made history Oct. 3 when he won the University of Missouri’s first Nobel Prize, and he further cemented his legacy Tuesday night by announcing he’ll donate his nearly $250,000 of prize money to the university.

His donation will support needs-based scholarships for future College of Arts and Science students, the home college of his groundbreaking research.

MU and the University of Missouri System will contribute an additional $200,000 through the Missouri Compact Promise & Opportunity Scholarship. MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright also set aside $100,000 for student scholarships.

“I prospered here,” Smith said last month in an interview alongside his wife, Margie Sable. Smith taught at MU for more than four decades. “I think I owe a lot to Mizzou, and this is a pretty appropriate place to give the money to. It’s also money for a healthy, academic institution.”

The 78-year-old MU Curators Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biological Sciences shared the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with two other scientists. Their combined work led to lifepreserving drugs, such as Humira. Since then, he’s become a local and international celebrity. He’s risen from “Mr. Phage Display” within his niche scientific field to broader public acclaim.

Smith and Sable said donating to MU was an easy choice. They never thought of donating to any other group or organization.

“He has a liberal arts background, and he knows a lot about literature, humanities, art and music, and, you know, I think he wanted it to go to the college that has all of those things,” said Sable, 69, director emerita of the MU School of Social Work.

The morning of Smith’s win, Sable hinted to MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright that the family would probably donate the money to MU. The news was music to Cartwright’s ears, which were still popping — he was fresh off a multi-leg journey from Thailand.

Having a Nobel Laureate faculty member like Smith helps potential faculty and researchers considering MU realize, “Well, George did it here, right? We can go there and do it,” Cartwright said. That reputation helps MU, as a research institution, receive grant funding and attract junior faculty members, according to Cartwright.

Sable said she’s heard people across campus and town say they’ve been inspired to donate and contribute to the university because of Smith’s win.

The money never hit the pockets of Smith and Sable — the couple elected to have it funneled directly to the university from the Nobel Foundation so no taxes would be applied.

Donating to the university is old news for the couple. Sable said the family has donated to KBIA-FM/91.3, their respective colleges, Friends of Music, Mizzou Women Give and other organizations.

“I don’t think it was a validation of my life at all,” Smith said. “It was very pleasant to get it, but it was not something that was the capstone of my life.”

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