Whether discussing ethics during a spirited game of handball, demystifying cell structure in his biology lab or dispensing career advice in his office, Joseph J. Peters, S.J., was always teaching. And Dr. J. Joseph Marr, for one, counts himself all the richer for it. That’s why Marr, a 1959 graduate, has made it his personal mission to set up the Joseph J. Peters, S.J., Endowed Scholarship Fund—and encourage contributions from each and every student who benefited from Peters’ teaching.
“Joe was a remarkably influential person in my life, and I think in the lives of just about every person he came in contact with,” Marr says. “He was a mentor to anyone who would pay attention. He taught by example in a way that was very consistent with his religious and ethical principles. He showed us that education isn’t just a matter of knowledge—it carries ethical implications.
“He had a requirement that you used what you learned not just for the benefit of yourself, but for the benefit of others as well. I think that resolves itself into the Jesuit mission. And in the course of that experience, I became a very serious believer in Jesuit education.”
If Marr sounds grateful, he is. The Hamilton, Ohio, native earned his biology degree from Xavier and studied internal medicine at Saint Louis University and Johns Hopkins University. After a detour into the U.S. Army Special Forces, he earned a master’s degree in microbial biochemistry at Saint Louis University, then continued his education at Washington University where he eventually became a professor of medicine and biochemistry. He then moved to consecutive assignments as head of infectious diseases at both Saint Louis University and the University of Colorado.
In 1989 Marr left academia to become vice president for new drug discovery at Monsanto/Searle. He later founded a biotech company, RPI, in Boulder, Colo., and took it public after three years. Next, he headed to Boston to become CEO of Immulogic Pharmaceutical Co., where he stayed three years before arriving at his current position as a partner in a venture capital firm called Pacific Rim Ventures.
All of it, he says, can be traced to Peters, who died in 1998.
“I went to college at age 16,” Marr says. “I also had an appointment to Annapolis, but I was too young. So I had to decide whether to leave Xavier and take the appointment. Fr. Peters allowed me to make the decision—he gave me ways to think about the decision. As a result, I stayed in pre-med, which was exactly the right thing for me to do. He also taught us how to do research. I’ve had a research career in medicine for 25 years, parallel with everything else. I probably would not have done that if not for him.”
And Marr says his personal experience wasn’t anything unusual—Peters’ deft touch at guiding students in the right direction carried many others to rewarding careers.
“He could tell some people were just not cut out to do what they wanted to do,” Marr recalls. “He had a way of perceiving that, and he would steer people in different directions. He did it in a private way that made everyone realize he was doing it in their own best interest.”
Now Marr is hoping to provide for the best interests of others in his mentor’s name. He actually began his one-man fundraising campaign in 2001. But the events of Sept. 11 and the resulting economic uncertainty made it a bad time to raise money. Marr sent letters to several hundred of Peters’ former students, raising about $60,000 of the $350,000 needed, but the responses from those who chose not to give at that time convinced Marr that he’d find success if he waited for an economic upturn.
This year, as the Dow began to rise, he sensed the time was right.
The end goal is to create a lasting memorial that will benefit one student annually in the biology department. “If we can pull this off, some student will have a chance at an education every year forevermore,” Marr says. “That’s a legacy that Fr. Peters would have liked.”