The University lost one of its truest friends, most illustrious alumni and most generous benefactors last week when Edmund Pratt, Engineering '47, died of cancer Thursday night in New York City at the age of 75. He is survived by his wife, Nancy Rhodes Pratt, and two sons, Randolf, of Plandome, N.Y., and Keith, of Brighton, Mich.
To students, Pratt is best known as the namesake of the School of Engineering, which was renamed in his honor after he donated $35 million to the school in 1999?the second largest bequest in University history. To business people, Pratt is also known as one of the giants of American business in the 20th century, having served as chair and CEO of Pfizer Inc. for two decades. But to his family, friends and associates, Pratt is known for his wonderful personality, his character and his wit.
Born in 1927 in Savannah, Ga., Pratt grew up in Elkton, Md., and graduated magna cum laude from Duke in 1947 with a B.S.E. in electrical engineering. Following graduation, he obtained his M.B.A. from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1949. He also fought in World War II and served as a lieutenant in the Korean War. He began his professional career with IBM in 1949 and came to Pfizer in 1964 as controller. In 1971, he was named chair and CEO of Pfizer, a position he served in until 1991. During Pratt's tenure as CEO, he transformed the company into an extremely important and profitable international pharmaceutical research company.
At Duke, Pratt's influence at the engineering school goes far beyond renaming the institution. When he gave his gift, he demonstrated a tremendous amount of confidence in the University and its leaders by making the use of the gift unrestricted, regardless of the new status of Dean Kristina Johnson to her position. As a result, the school is constricting new facilities and making new faculty hires.
Overall, the engineering school has been able to form an ambitious new plan for expansion and improvement from his contribution. The eventual beneficiaries will be undergraduates, since the money will be going to give them a better education, keeping wit Pratt's commitment to teaching. In addition to his patronage of the School of Engineering, Pratt gave guidance and leadership with years of service as a trustee for both the Fuqua School of Business and the University as a whole as well as contributing to the construction of the Levine Science Research Center.
In losing Edmund T. Pratt, the University community has lost a paragon of the community. He will be sorely missed.
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