Fortunately, his success at IDG gave McGovern the means to invest in the advancement of neuro-science. His wife, Lore Harp McGovern, whose own success as an entrepreneur began with the cofounding of Vector Graphics (one of the first PC companies), also wanted to help push neuroscience forward. After consulting neuroscientists and Nobel laureates, they decided to launch the McGovern Institute of Brain Research. The institute would have 18 labs – enough to encourage cross-discipline collaboration, but not so many that it would become bureaucratic.
The McGoverns zeroed in on seven possible university sites and ultimately chose Pat’s alma mater, convinced that MIT’s collaborative approach would be essential for understanding how the brain works. “Many of the universities were divided up into academic departments like stovepipes,” says McGovern. “MIT had the very best reputation for being problem-centric, with no academic boundaries.” The $350 million the McGoverns gave to endow the institute is the largest gift ever made to MIT.
The McGoverns view the McGovern Institute at MIT as a test bed, since the plan is to establish two more McGovern institutes – one in Asia, another in Europe – within the next decade. The idea is to support the world’s most talented neuroscientists without forcing them to move to Cambridge.
McGovern muses that were he a freshman arriving at MIT today, he might become a neuroscientist himself. Although a career switch isn’t imminent, McGovern’s influence on the field of neuroscience is likely to be substantial. It’s an influence, however, that’s deliberately indirect.
“The way you really run a research institution is you find the brightest and best people you can and let them go ahead and follow their own enthusiasms,” he says. “If we’re lucky, the outputs will be very helpful for improving human communications, understanding, education, and learning, and for tackling some of the illnesses like autism, Alzheimer’s, ADD, schizophrenia, and other major mental illnesses that cause so much suffering and loss of productivity in the world.”
For a man whose own life has been marked by extraordinary productivity and success, it’s a fitting legacy.