Recipients of this year’s Jane and Whitney Harris St. Louis Community Service Award are Peggy and Jerry Ritter. The award is given annually to a husband-and-wife team for exemplary dedication in advancing the educational, cultural and social service institutions in the metropolitan area.
The Ritters are the 15th awardees of this honor, which was established in 2000 as part of a bequest made by the late Jane Freund Harris, who, with her husband, the late Whitney Harris, was a lifelong advocate for community service. They both recognized the need for and the value of supporting institutions that contribute to the overall quality of life in a community.
Washington University in St. Louis administers the Harris award. Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton hosts a luncheon at Harbison House where the recipients receive the award. A committee, led by attorney Michael Loynd, handles the selection process.
At this year’s luncheon, held Feb. 7, Wrighton spoke of the lasting legacy of Jane and Whitney Harris. He thanked their son Eugene for participating in the celebration.
Also in attendance were the Ritters’ children: daughter Laura Caro, with her husband, Joe; and daughter Elizabeth, accompanied by her guest, Robert Crutsinger.
At the ceremony, Wrighton noted:
“In a very special way, Jane and Whitney are with us this afternoon. I’m sure they would be pleased to see Peggy and Jerry recognized today for their contributions to the St. Louis community. They have demonstrated the type of commitment and dedication to our region that Jane and Whitney cherished so highly and demonstrated in their own lives.”
As stipulated in the bequest, each couple receives $50,000 to donate to the organization(s) of their choice. The Ritters are supporting the work of two Washington University medical researchers: Ryan Fields, MD, and Ramaswamy Govindan, MD. Both men were present, as was Larry J. Shapiro, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine.
Jerry and Peggy Ritter
Jerry Ritter was born in Poteau, Okla., and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and accounting in 1957 from the University of Missouri-Columbia. He retired as executive vice president, chief financial officer and administration officer of Anheuser-Busch Companies Inc. in 1996, after which he served for three years as chairman of the board of the St. Louis Blues.
A champion of the St. Louis community for decades, Ritter serves on the boards of the Saint Louis Science Center, of which he is past chairman of the board of commissioners and a life trustee; SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center, for which he is a past board president; the St. Louis Symphony Endowment Trust; Ranken Technical College; and The St. Louis Trust Company.
He served as chairman of the Saint Louis Science Center’s Transform Tomorrow campaign, chaired the campaign to add a new patient wing at Cardinal Glennon and chaired the major fundraising campaign for Webster University.
Among his honors are the Visitation Academy Award of Excellence and the Man of the Year Award from the rural parish workers of Christ the King. He is a longtime member of the Business and Public Administration Hall of Fame at the University of Missouri-Columbia, and he has served as general chairman of the U.S. Senior Open.
Peggy Ritter was born in Hannibal. She earned her bachelor’s degree in medical technology at Saint Louis University and was chief technician at Saint Louis University Hospital’s radioisotope laboratory until her retirement.
She currently serves as president of the board of trustees of the Saint Louis Zoo Association and is a past president of its friends board. For the Saint Louis Art Museum, she has served as a commissioner, a past president of its board of trustees as well as its friends board, and she recently was named a lifetime trustee.
In addition, Peggy Ritter is a board member of the St. Louis Symphony and a member of the Advocacy Council of the Radio Arts Foundation. She recently was named a trustee emeritus of the Missouri Botanical Garden.
Other former leadership roles include serving on the boards of the Arts and Education Council and of Dance St. Louis. This year marks her 10th as co-chair of the Mardi Gras Masquerade Gala to benefit the Mercy Medical Center Foundation, and she has co-chaired the Bob Costas Celebrity Benefit for SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center for 25 years.
Her honors include the Woman of the Year Award from Variety the Children’s Charity and the Cancer Support Community’s Marsha Wolff and Tina Borchert Inspiration Award.
Together, the Ritters have had — and continue to have — a profound impact on the city they love. As co-chairs of two campaigns for the United Way’s Alexis de Tocqueville Society of St. Louis, they have raised significant funding crucial to area nonprofits on the front lines of community service. As co-chairs of the Miriam School capital campaign, they have helped provide important physical fitness resources for children challenged by learning disabilities.
Fields and Govindan
Fields is an assistant professor of surgery and associate program director of the general surgery residency program at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, and he is director of resident research for the general surgery residency program at Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
A surgical oncologist specializing in solid upper gastrointestinal malignancies, soft-tissue sarcoma and melanoma/skin cancer, his research investigates the biology of cancer metastases. Partnering with others at the School of Medicine, Fields is applying cutting-edge genomic techniques to advance knowledge in these areas of cancer research.
Govindan is a professor of medicine, co-director of the section of medical oncology, and director of the thoracic oncology program in the Department of Medicine at the School of Medicine.
He conducts research on non-small cell lung cancer, studying genomic alterations to cancer cells at the molecular level to understand how cancer develops in “never” smokers, and to help predict outcomes for patients with early-stage lung cancer.