Celebrating a life of service

June 14, 2021
News

Longtime Kansas Citian, Virginia Glascock Stowers—wife of the late James “Jim” E. Stowers Jr., mother of three daughters and one son, nurse, and co-founder of the research institute that bears the family name—died at her home in Kansas City, MO, on June 5, 2021. She was 91.

Virginia partnered with her husband to found the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, which the couple envisioned as one of the most innovative and effective medical research organizations in the world. The Stowers Institute opened its doors in Virginia’s adopted hometown of Kansas City in 2000. Virginia and Jim also co-founded BioMed Valley Discoveries, a clinical stage biotechnology company that started operations in 2007, to further develop foundational research findings from the Stowers Institute and other laboratories into therapeutics and diagnostics.

What a wonderful life! by Ryan Contillo

Virginia Ann Glascock was born May 21, 1930, in Rawlins, WY, to Clayton Francis Glascock, a pharmacist, and Gertrude Frances (Wright) Glascock, a teacher.

Raised in Wyoming, Virginia attended St. Joseph School of Nursing in Denver, CO, an affiliate of Regis University, and then studied at Research Hospital School of Nursing in Kansas City where she was licensed as a registered nurse in 1952.

That same year Virginia met her husband-to-be at a Research Hospital holiday party. Family lore holds that Jim was mildly rebuffed when he attempted to woo her with a candy cane. But in a 2010 joint interview, Virginia confessed, “when I saw Jim across the room, I thought, I’m going to find out who that man is and marry him.” Jim retorted, “If I’d known that I would have asked you right then!”

Virginia Glascock and Jim Stowers Jr. were married in Kansas City in February of 1954, just as he launched a career that would culminate in his founding of Twentieth Century Mutual Funds.

“Our married life began with a five-year-old car, a one-bedroom apartment, $1,000 in savings, loads of love, and the determination to become financially independent,” said Jim in his 2007 autobiography.

Virginia raised their four children while working part-time as a nurse anesthetist at Research and Menorah hospitals in Kansas City until the mid-1980’s. Early on the couple put Virginia’s earnings in savings and avoided perceived luxuries such as dining out, and instead entertained themselves by window-shopping. On one outing, Jim asked Virginia if she liked a fur coat hanging in a Kansas City store window. She answered yes, but added, “We can’t afford it because it will reduce our investment savings.” In those early days, Virginia sewed the family draperies, and when their children came along, she also sewed their clothing.

Virginia’s total lack of pretension—combined with profound dignity, intelligence, and a determination to carve out her own niche—led one publication to aptly call her a “unique blend of pioneer woman and modern lady.” Virginia’s public appearances with her husband reinforced that image: rather than the adoring wife flanking the successful husband, the couple telegraphed a quiet mutual respect and affection, combined with an unshakable commitment to realize their shared vision.

Nowhere was Virginia’s determination more deeply tested than in her family’s battles with cancer. In 1993, Virginia underwent surgery for breast cancer and endured five years of chemotherapy. Seven years earlier, her husband had been diagnosed and treated surgically for prostate cancer, and three of their children are also cancer survivors.

Virginia and Jim Stowers
Virginia and Jim Stowers

“Cancer teaches you to not to waste time fretting about small things,” Virginia said in an interview. “You learn to focus on the most significant things in life.”

Those experiences also encouraged Virginia and Jim to use a substantial share of the wealth they accumulated as significant equity owners of American Century Investments to endow a world-class biomedical research institute in Kansas City. Their gifts totaled close to $2 billion, a venture Virginia assumed equal partnership in.

“All of us at the Stowers Institute are deeply saddened by the loss of our pioneering co-founder Virginia G. Stowers. Her lasting legacy extends far beyond Kansas City and the fundamental biological research institute she and her husband James E. Stowers Jr. founded in 1994. Mrs. Stowers will be remembered as an individual who demonstrated great humility and deep interest in others. We are forever grateful for her foresight and generosity,” said Richard W. Brown, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research.

In her own words, Virginia wanted the Stowers Institute to be “a place people would want to come to work at.” She actively participated in decisions relating to the building’s interior design and landscaping. Visitors and scientists from Berkeley to Berlin agree that the Stowers Institute, with its open spaces, stunning glass and rich wood paneling, and limestone and slate flooring, is one of the warmest, most welcoming and beautiful research facilities ever constructed.

Among the awards Virginia received were honorary doctorates from Saint Mary College (now University of Saint Mary), Research College of Nursing, Rockhurst University, and University of Missouri-Kansas City. She served on the board of directors for the Stowers Institute since September 30, 2008, and for American Century Companies, Inc., since March 17, 2014.

Together with Jim, Virginia received multiple awards for community service and philanthropy, including the “Others Award” for community service from the Salvation Army in 1999, the Chancellor’s Medal from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 1999, the Marion and John Kreamer Award for Social Entrepreneurship at the UMKC Henry W. Bloch School of Management in 2013, and induction into the Entrepreneur Hall of Fame at the Regnier Institute for Entrepreneurship at UMKC in 2018.

In addition, Virginia received the 2016 Vision to Action Award from the Center for Practical Bioethics. This award honors individuals who encourage and exhibit the highest ethical standards of conduct in their leadership, vision, and commitment.

“Our mother was the head of the household,” said her daughter, Linda, recalling that her father often had to travel during her childhood. “She came to all of our games, dances, plays, and school assemblies—she was the glue that held our family together.”

Virginia’s family thanked her in a book honoring women of achievement published by the Kansas City Women’s Foundation. “You are not only proof that behind every successful man there’s a great woman, but that behind a great woman stands a wonderfully appreciative husband, as well as children and their families,” wrote her children. “You have earned your title as Chairman of the Board of the Stowers family.”

Virginia Stowers was preceded in death by her parents, Clayton F. Glascock and Gertrude W. Driscoll; her husband of sixty years, James “Jim” E. Stowers Jr.; and her oldest daughter Pamela. She is survived by her older brother William Glascock and wife Nancy of Eugene, OR; daughter Kathleen Stowers-Potter (Jim Potter) of Denver, CO; her son James Stowers III (Michele) of Mission Hills, KS; and daughter Linda Stowers (Chuck Mackey) of Kansas City, MO. She is also survived by grandchildren Lauren Hume (Stephan), Ryan Contillo, Alex Johnson, Layne Stowers, and James Stowers IV, and two great-grandchildren, Lylah and Elliot.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, Operation Breakthrough or Rose Brooks.