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Duke’s first department named after a donor will commemorate Thomas Lord

Following a $261 million gift in 2019, Duke is naming a department after a donor for the first time. 

After the Board of Trustees approved the decision, Duke’s department of mechanical engineering and materials science—part of the Pratt School of Engineering—will be named for donor Thomas Lord, whose legacy includes a $261 million gift to Duke in 2019 despite having died in 1989, according to a Tuesday news release from the Pratt school.

The name change makes the department the first at Duke to be named for a financial benefactor. 

In 1984, Lord established the Lord Foundation of North Carolina with millions of dollars in stock in his manufacturing company. That foundation was one of four across the country, with others dedicated to supporting the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California and the Cleveland Clinic.

When the LORD Corporation sold in 2019, the company distributed more than $1 billion to the four recipients, with Duke receiving $261 million. The payout was the single largest outside contribution to Duke’s endowment since the University was founded in 1924. 

Before that, the Lord Foundation of North Carolina had already given more than $47 million to Duke, which went toward the Pratt Research Fellows program, an overhauled introductory engineering course and the establishment of endowed professorships.

“The Lord Foundation’s exceptional support for Duke will transform our efforts to address the world’s most intractable problems,” President Vincent Price said in a news release at the time. “From the foundation’s earliest investments in our Pratt School of Engineering to this truly visionary distribution, Tom Lord has left a lasting legacy on Duke’s campus, one that will continue to improve the lives of our students, faculty, staff and those who benefit from their work, for many decades to come.”

The newly-christened Thomas Lord Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science will not be Lord’s only tie to the University. The chair of that department will also be named for a man with ties to Lord—Donald Alstadt, former president of LORD Corporation and a member of Pratt’s Board of Visitors. 

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