The formation of the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation resulted from the vision, energy and drive of one person, the late Emeritus Professor Sir Don Beaven.
Prof Beaven returned to Christchurch in 1959, after two years in Boston USA under a Fulbright Scholarship. He assumed the position of senior physician with the North Canterbury Hospital Board, responsible for the teaching of sixth year trainee medical interns from the University of Otago. He also became director of what was initially known as the ‘Full Time Medical Unit’ based at the recently opened Princess Margaret Hospital.
Don was encouraged by the Medical Research Council of New Zealand to take steps to form a Medical Research Foundation in Canterbury, following the successful establishment of the Auckland Medical Research Foundation two years earlier. He consulted his uncle, the late Alan Reed, a senior partner in the Christchurch legal firm Wynn Williams and Co, on how he should set about achieving this. The advice was to form a steering committee of prominent citizens of the City, the University of Canterbury, and leading community organizations, and that he should ensure their ranks include an accountant and a lawyer.
As a chartered accountant Athol Mann was seconded to the Board as was the late Tony Hearn, a partner in the firm Weston, Ward and Lascelles, agreeing to provide legal advice and services.
Others involved from the outset were Dr Leslie Averill, Chairman of the North Canterbury Hospital Board, who's unfailing support saw him became the first President of the Foundation. R C (Sam) Neville from the Chamber of Commerce, became the first Chairman of the Executive along with prominent Rotarian Ray Newton and John Bradley from the Manufacturers Association. Incorporation was completed in 1960.
An often asked question was why a small country with limited resources such as New Zealand, needed to engage in medical research, rather than simply avail itself of work carried out in London, Boston, Geneva and other leading cities of advanced learning? Don Beaven never tired of explaining that it was necessary to attract the best health professionals to provide the highest standard of patient care and that in addition to their clinical work they would expect to be engaged in relevant research and teaching.
It was agreed that the first priority for funding by the newly formed CMRF would be a full time research fellowship, in Christchurch tenable for at least a year, for an overseas Post Grad student. This was designated the Leslie Averill Research Fellowship recognizing the contribution of the inaugural President. The first recipient was endocrinologist Professor Richard Donald.
A primary objective in forming a local Research Foundation were of course to attract funding to support research in Canterbury, to enable projects assessed as having merit to get traction and to bridge interim gaps in funding applications. From the outset, it was decided to undertake a drive to secure bequests to build a secure financial foundation.
The hard work of successive executive committees and the generous support of the people of Canterbury have contributed to the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation’s outstanding success, which 55 years later has investments in excess of $10 million and is able to award research grants in the order of $1 million, annually.