Dan Adams—Bugher Foundation Champion for Training and Collaboration
Over the years, we have recognized the contributions of many of our professional members who we have lost. It is not often that the Stroke community acknowledges the loss of someone who was not a healthcare professional, scientist, or administrator, but who has made a major contribution to the mission of the American Stroke Association. Our community has lost a great philanthropist, supporter, and creative thinker with the death of Dan Adams who oversaw the Bugher Foundation, a family foundation that blossomed into one of the nation’s leading funders of stroke research. Dan was 75 and died on June 30, 2015, accompanied by his loved ones near his home in Greenwich, CT, after losing his battle with acute myeloid leukemia. Survivors include his wife, Suzanne, sons Bryan and Bruce, Bruce’s wife, Lee, and Bruce and Lee’s daughters, Margaret and Lucy. He was preceded in death by another son, Danny.
Dan Adams became a leader in the fight against stroke through his involvement and leadership of the Henrietta B. and Frederick H. Bugher Foundation. Since 1986, the Bugher Foundation has funded >$36 million in heart and stroke studies overseen by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. During the last 3 cycles, their main focus has been stroke research largely because of Dan’s vision to tackle studies that were innovative, collaborative, and could truly have an impact on stroke. This foundation is the most generous research donor in the American Heart Association’s (AHA) history. Three generations of the Adams family have been involved with the foundation since its inception. Dan’s father, Nelson Adams, helped start the Bugher Foundation, and Dan’s sons, Bryan and Bruce, are among the current trustees. Part of the reason the Bugher Foundation played such a prominent role in Dan’s life was its role as a bridge between generations: he got to work with his father, then with his sons who will carry on with the mission of the Bugher Foundation.
Looking back, it was not clear from Dan’s professional career that stimulating stroke research would be his legacy. Dan graduated from Colgate and pursued a career in advertising. In 1979, he launched The Daniel Adams Company, which specialized in training and development. Dan developed a niche as a branding guru, serving clients across the country and around the globe. He was eloquent, thoughtful, and motivating and could quickly engage an audience to think outside the box and move forward in a new direction. Dan blended his professional expertise and the stroke knowledge he gained through his Bugher work to help the AHA/American Stroke Association (ASA) develop branding and focus for stroke campaigns. In fact, he was the impetus for the organization’s first Ad Council campaign for stroke. Dan also enjoyed his involvement with his local AHA division.
Although Dan was growing up, his father was a prominent attorney in New York. Among his clients was Frederick McLean Bugher, Jr, son of Henrietta B. and Frederick H. Bugher. On their death in 1961, Nelson Adams helped their son establish the foundation. The original charter aimed at funding heart disease studies in the nation’s capital because both of Frederick’s parents died of heart disease in Washington, DC. When Frederick died in the early 1980s—also of heart disease—he left the majority of his fortune (nearly $20 million) to the foundation. With expanded resources, the foundation’s trustees, including Nelson Adams, decided to widen their scope and enlisted the help of the AHA.
As the Bugher Foundation’s work with the AHA was taking off, Dan Adams joined his dad as a trustee, as did Gayllis Ward, daughter of the foundation’s longtime financial manager, Bob Robinson. The first Bugher-funded projects were based in university laboratories (called centers) and required the involvement of students (fellows). The research all focused on molecular biology in the mid-1980s and did not specifically involve stroke.
Early in Dan Adams’ tenure on the foundation, he asked about the specifics of the group’s charter to ensure it was being followed. “My dad and Bob said, ‘Cardiovascular research,’” Dan Adams said. “I said, ‘But what kind of things?’ They looked blankly at each other.” I said, “Given the success of Bugher 1, it seems to me we are positioned to do seminal projects that are innovative and have difficulty getting funded. We don’t answer to anyone, so we can take more risks. And they bought into that. That’s become our operating philosophy.”
By 1996, Dan and Gayllis became the organization’s primary stewards. When it was time to fund a second project, AHA officials encouraged the Bugher trustees to invest in stroke research, where it was thought they could make more of a difference. Adams and his counterparts loved the idea of targeting the world’s No. 2 killer. “I remember because it was brilliant: a spectrum of ways stroke needed to be engaged,” Dan said.
For the third joint project, it was quickly decided that the research would combine the best elements of what had become known as Bugher 1 and Bugher 2: using centers and fellows, and having them focus on stroke. The primary focus of Bugher 3 was on stroke prevention. This included a look at the role of genetics. At Dan’s urging, there was one more caveat, a time-tested business principle that had yet to gain traction in the world of medical science: cross-institutional collaboration. He really believed in collaboration, creating synergy and pushed the concept of team science before it became popular. Simply put, Dan wanted the Bugher Centers to work together, sharing everything from samples to ideas. “It just made so much sense from all of the rest of my life,” Dan said.
In Bugher 3, the 3 university laboratories (California-Davis/San Francisco, Duke and Harvard) were chosen separately and then told to work as a team. Although things were still being smoothed out 3 years into the 4-year study, the experiment was a success. He often urged the Bugher centers to write about how the collaboration worked and wanted to share the approach as a model for contemporary translational research. The idea of bringing centers together and incentivizing collaboration has become a principle that other research networks are now following such as NINDS Stroke NET and the new AHA/ASA targeted research centers across prevention, genetics, and women and cardiovascular disease.
The first 3 Bugher projects ranged from $8.4 million to $9.4 million. But, for Bugher 4, the trustees upped the ante to $9.65 million. They also stuck with what they believed in: centers and fellows, collaboration and stroke research. Seeking to move into other areas where stroke research was needed, Dan helped direct Bugher 4 to tackle stroke recovery. Formally known as the American Stroke Association-Bugher Centers of Excellence in Stroke Collaborative Research, Bugher 4 focuses on recovery, resilience, and prevention includes psychology, psychiatry, and neuropsychology. This met Adams’ oft-stated goal of “getting the mind into the mix.” The current Bugher-funded project involves teams of researchers at UCLA, the University of Colorado at Denver and the University of Miami. They are in the second of 4 years of studying a broad range of issues, including stroke in children, rehabilitation and recovery, neuropsychology and cognition, and are working together in a collaborative format championed by Dan Adams. In the last 2 years, I really believe Dan saw his dreams realized and remarked how smooth the collaboration, training, and research was going in this latest cycle. He took special comfort in seeing his sons become more engaged in the work of the foundation, and really began to pull back and let their time as next-generation leaders begin.
Dan also was a believer in investing and training the next generation of researchers. From the beginning, the Bugher foundation emphasized training and career development. The current cycle of Bugher centers includes 6 fellows, 2 from each site who spend 2 years in career development program and working on innovative projects. These projects are not only the ones originally designed and funded but also include new opportunities to develop collaborative fellow-driven projects with supplemental funding.
Dan would always get most excited when he heard the fellows present their findings at meetings. I would really see the sparkle in his eye when he interacted with the fellows almost gaining energy from their enthusiasm. He would love to interact with the fellows, ask them questions and their energy and enthusiasm would provide him with immense pleasure. He would light-up when he was around younger investigators and often hear him state how smart these fellows were. He was truly proud of the fellows and would marvel at their accomplishments. I think it gave him comfort to know that the future for stroke would be brighter because of the investments made in these next-generation investigators.
With nearly 30 years of funded research, the Bugher alumni club includes >200 researchers, many of whom have become leaders in the field. “We’ve found that a lot of them (fellows) stayed in research—they found that they liked it,” Dan said. “We’re very pleased with that.” There are so many fellows, faculty, researchers, and patients who are indebted to Dan and his family for their generosity and guidance of the Bugher Foundation in improving outcomes for patients with stroke and heart disease.
“Much was accomplished specifically because of Dan’s creativity and enthusiasm,” said Rose Marie Robertson, Chief Science and Medical Officer of the AHA/ASA. “He had a profound impact on the lives of so many, from the investigators whose careers began or were strengthened as they pursued the research funded by the Bugher Foundation to the many patients whose lives will be improved by the results of that research. For those of us at the AHA/ASA who knew him over many years, it was a great privilege and pleasure to be his colleague and friend.”
“Dan meant so much to our organization,” said Nancy Brown, chief executive officer of the AHA/ASA. “As an individual leader, he helped shape the future of the AHA in research, as a trustee of the Bugher Foundation he was inspirational to so many others and as a friend he was always gracious and compassionate. His presence and input will be greatly missed.”
The Stroke community has greatly benefited from the work of Dan Adams. We have lost a true hero and creative thinker who championed training and collaboration as the best means to make significant progress in stroke research. It is comforting to know that his vision will live on under the able direction of his sons, Bryan and Bruce, as the next leaders of the Bugher Foundation.
- Received July 20, 2015.
- Accepted July 20, 2015.
- © 2015 American Heart Association, Inc.