An Eye for the Promise of Interdisciplinary Research

Dr. George Violin is an eye surgeon who graduated from Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, but he admits he has some difficulty understanding the advanced research conducted at the Clyde and Helen Center for Molecular Cardiology.
“It’s hard for a lay person to understand, but also hard for other scientists,” he says. “My son (Jonathan D. Violin) is a molecular biologist, so I asked him to read some of Andy’s papers.”
“Wow, this is really cool stuff,” was the response of the younger Violin, a Duke University researcher.
But it wasn’t on their son’s word alone that the George and Joan Violin Family Fund gave $2 million to the Center for Molecular Cardiology. In addition to owning and operating an ophthalmic practice that spans several offices, Dr. Violin is one of three founders of the Ambulatory Surgical Centers of America (ASCOA), which operates 21 facilities across the United States.

Organizational Genius
“I knew from ASCOA that getting an organization set up is very different from just getting the idea,” he says, “One of the most promising things about the Wu Center for Molecular Cardiology is how it combines research from many disciplines. But you need exceptional leadership to be interdisciplinary—someone who can get different groups to work together and make it happen.
“It’s rare to find an organizational leader who is also a leader in science,” Dr. Violin says, “But Andy Marks is a genius. He has fire in his belly, and knows how to get things done in this field. His own research is first class.
“The Wu Center for Molecular Cardiology shows great promise to become one of the leaders of the biotech revolution,” Dr. Violin predicts. He suspects that Dr. Marks inherited some of his organizational genius from his father, Dr. Paul Marks, who was one of Dr. Violin’s teachers in medical school and went on to become the President of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. “Paul was also someone who knew how to make organizations work; he set a very high standard, but Andy lives up to it.”

Passing It On
Dr. Violin is modest about his own accomplishments. “Being an eye surgeon is not different from being a shoemaker,” he jokes. “I’m just a simple guy. I’ve been successful because I was lent a hand by others, and establishing this fund is a way for me to pass it on.”

Scholarships allowed him to attend Columbia University and its College of Physicians and Surgeons. More than 40 years later, he still remembers the names of the donors who set up those scholarships. With his latest endowment, in addition to the scholarship and professorship he has created at Columbia University, he has certainly added his own name to the list of those who have helped shape the future of medicine.
For Dr. Violin, the best thing about becoming a donor is that he can enjoy the progress of the Center vicariously. “Whenever something good happens through their work, I get satisfaction,” he says. He feels the creation of the George and Joan Violin Family Fund for the Wu Center for Molecular Cardiology is certain to pay good dividends in satisfaction. “They’re laying the groundwork for a revolution in the treatment of heart disease,” he says, “You can smell it.”

"They're laying the ground work for a revolution in the treatment of heart disease"

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