V. Paul Gavora and Helen S. and John A. Schilling Endowed Chair in Vascular Surgery
The V. Paul Gavora and Helen S. and John A. Schilling Endowed Chair in Vascular Surgery was established in 2005 to support UW Medicine’s Department of Surgery. The endowment was created by gifts from the Gavora family and the estate of Helen Schilling.
John A. Schilling, M.D., was raised in Missouri, graduated from Dartmouth in 1937, and attended Harvard Medical School, graduating in 1941. After careers at the University of Rochester (where he began his lifelong work in wound healing) and the University of Oklahoma (where he was the chief of the school’s surgical department), Dr. Schilling came to the UW in 1974 as a senior investigator. He then served as chair of the Department of Surgery from 1975 to 1983. He retired in 1983 after recruiting 41 new faculty members and having seen the graduation of 40 chief residents.
Helen S. Schilling, a graduate of Oberlin College with a career in newspaper work and administration, shared her husband’s academic life. They worked together at the University of Rochester, the University of Oklahoma, and the University of Washington, where Mrs. Schilling served as the administrator of the Department of Surgery.
Vladimir Gavora was born in the former Czechoslovakia, now the Slovak Republic, as Europe paused between the bloodshed of two world wars. He is the youngest of the three children of Rudolph and Darina Gavora. When he was seven, Germans invaded his hometown. When he was 13, his father died, leaving his mother alone to raise a family amidst the violence of World War II.
In 1948, Mr. Gavora was expelled from the 10th grade for questioning the communist ideology that was fast becoming the official ideology of post-war Eastern and Central Europe. Fearing arrest, he decided to escape to the West. But his passage would not be easy. Czechoslovakia had fallen under Soviet domination, and its borders were tightly controlled. Under cover of darkness, Mr. Gavora swam across the Danube and made his way to West Germany where other Czech and Slovak refugees were exiled. He finished high school in West Germany and in 1951 was awarded a scholarship to study in America. Mr. Gavora secured passage across the Atlantic by working as a security guard on a United Nations ship carrying Eastern and Central European refugees of communism.
At Colorado State University, Mr. Gavora, now known as Paul, met Donna Tighe. They were married in 1953 and soon moved to Chicago, where Mr. Gavora pursued graduate study in economics at the University of Chicago. By 1958, the territory of Alaska was poised to join the Union, and the University of Alaska was looking for educators to help build the 49th state. Mr. Gavora was offered an assistant professorship in economics. With three children and a fourth on the way, the Gavoras packed up their family and headed for the last frontier. But when he reached Fairbanks, the promised professorship failed to materialize. To support his family, Mr. Gavora took the first job offered in the newspaper want ads: delivering milk to the residents of Fairbanks.
Then, in 1963, came opportunity. With $7,000 in cash from a mortgage on his home, Mr. Gavora bought his first grocery store. In the years that followed, his business continued to grow. In 1969, he opened his first Market Basket, the anchor of what would become Fairbanks’ first shopping mall. In the early 1970s, a second Market Basket and a second mall opened. By 1989, the headline of the Alaska Business Monthly read, “From Milkman to Magnate: Fairbanks’ Paul Gavora.” That year, Mr. Gavora owned three of the five major shopping malls in the Fairbanks area, and three of the six major grocery stores. Alone among Alaska Business Monthly’s list of the largest Alaska-owned, Alaska-based businesses, Mr. Gavora owned two, Market Basket Inc., and Northland Hub.
Mr. Gavora began to experience pain and a lack of circulation in his legs in 2004, he turned to the closest top-tier medical research facility: UW Medicine. In the fall of that year, he underwent surgery and was successfully treated by Alexander W. Clowes, M.D., professor and chief of the Division of Vascular Surgery, using leading-edge, research-based procedures. Although the Gavoras have passed away, their generosity and legacy continues through their nine children and many grandchildren, and their business has become a family business.
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