Seattle research center is renamed Bob Hope International Heart Research Institute on November 20, 1980.

  • By Cassandra Tate
  • Posted 2/22/2006
  • Essay 7641
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On November 20, 1980, the Reconstructive Cardiovascular Research Center is renamed the Bob Hope International Heart Research Institute, in honor of one of America's best-known entertainers. Dr. Lester R. Sauvage (1926-2015), founder and director of the center, says its mission will expand to include the prevention as well as the treatment of heart disease. Sauvage also launches a campaign to raise $30 million to build, equip, and operate a new facility to replace the Institute's modest quarters behind Providence Hospital (now Swedish Medical Center) in Seattle.

Ambitious Plans

The Bob Hope International Heart Research Institute grew out of a small laboratory that Sauvage, a pioneering cardiovascular surgeon, established in 1959. For several years Sauvage worked essentially by himself, designing and testing blood vessel grafts for victims of coronary artery disease, while also carrying on a busy surgical practice. By the 1970s, he had been joined by a dozen other scientists and physicians. Despite relatively limited facilities, Sauvage and his associates had made several significant contributions to cardiovascular research, including improved designs for artificial arteries and heart valves.

Sauvage hoped to build on that work by bringing together an international team of surgeons, hematologists, biochemists, and immunologists. He dreamed of building a $5 million world-class research center, outfitted with $3 million worth of state-of-the-art laboratory equipment, supported by a $22 million endowment -- enough to allow the institute to operate without having to rely on the vagaries of government grants. The overall goal was to develop better ways of treating coronary disease and eventually help prevent the disease altogether. "We want to keep people from becoming patients," Sauvage said. "We want to keep those who have one operation from having to get a second or third. I want to put myself out of business" (The Seattle Times, 1981).

Comedian Bob Hope (1903-2003) agreed to lend his name and considerable prestige to the venture at the behest of Demerise Drew, a member of the research center's board and a longtime friend of Hope and his wife, Delores. Dozens of Hollywood celebrities (including comedian Steve Allen and actress Nanette Fabray), famous industrialists (such as former Chrysler Corporation President Lee Iacocca and oil tycoon Armand Hammer), and public officials (among them former President Gerald Ford and former Treasury Secretary William Simon), accepted nominal appointments to an International Board of Governors for the new Institute. The J. Walter Thompson advertising and public relations agency, based in New York, donated its services to help publicize the cause.

The fundraising campaign accelerated in October 1981, timed to coincide with a week-long series of performances by Bob Hope at the Paramount Theater in Seattle. Newspaper advertisements played up the association between the Institute and the entertainer. "With Hope in Seattle, There's Hope for the World," announced one ad, above a large photo of a smiling Bob Hope. Major donors were invited to a black-tie dinner at the Westin Hotel on October 29, with Hope as the guest of honor.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer enthusiastically promoted the Institute with a six-week series of daily articles about heart disease, many of them featuring grateful patients of Sauvage. Each article was accompanied by a convenient coupon for donations. Despite the aggressive publicity and Sauvage's tireless efforts, the campaign fell far short of its goal. By the end of October 1983, only $6 million of the hoped-for $30 million had been raised, and plans for the new building were abandoned.

Bob Hope had little direct involvement with the Institute that bore his name, although he did make one generous contribution of $100,000. The affiliation ended in late 1987. The organization was renamed the Hope Heart Institute, dropping the reference to the entertainer but retaining the name "Hope" for its symbolic value. As a spokeswoman explained at the time, "in research, hope is the greatest gift one can give" (The Seattle Times, 1988). In a video interview recorded in 2005, Sauvage (a deeply religious man) offered this further explanation: "We kept the name 'Hope' in the context of the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity."


Al Dieffenbach, "Heart-study Center to Stress Prevention," The Seattle Times, November 21, 1980, p. B-2; Warren King, "New Ideas Spell Hope for Heart-Disease Research," Ibid.,, October 18, 1981, p. C-8; "With Hope in Seattle, There's Hope for the World," advertisement, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 28, 1981, p. B-12; "Heart Institute Delayed," Ibid.,, October 28, 1983, p. A-9; Charles E. Brown, "Bob's Gone, but There's Still 'Hope' for Heart Research Institute," The Seattle Times, July 21, 1988, p. E-4; Video interview with Lester R. Sauvage, recorded by Hope Heart Institute, 2005.

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