July 12, 2004

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Contact: John Scarffe, KU Endowment Association, (785) 832-7336.

KU science fiction center and medicine to benefit from physician's gift

LAWRENCE -- The brother of a University of Kansas professor emeritus of English has left more than $388,000 for a science fiction center at KU named for the brothers' parents and to fund three lectureships.

The late Richard W. Gunn, M.D., liberal arts '41 and medicine '44, gave to the Kansas University Endowment Association for the Department of English and the School of Medicine. About $290,000 of the gift has been divided between an annual lectureship in English and the J. Wayne and Elsie M. Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction. The Gunn Center was founded and is directed by Richard's brother, James Gunn, KU professor emeritus of English. The center offers special courses and conferences, facilitates research and makes annual awards for outstanding fiction in the genre.

"Dr. Gunn's gift will advance the study of science fiction at KU and help the department bring outstanding speakers to campus who will enhance the public's understanding of literature and writing in the 21st century," said Dorice Elliott, chair and associate professor of English.

The remainder of the gift supported two medical lecture series and cardiovascular research. The lecture series are named for the late Don Carlos Peete, M.D., a former KU professor of medicine, and his late wife, Alice V. Peete. The series are coordinated by the Division of Cardiovascular Diseases and the Department of History and Philosophy of Medicine at the KU Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan.

Richard was one of the youngest doctors -- if not the youngest -- to graduate with a medical degree from KU, James Gunn said. Richard was born in October 1921 and graduated from medical school just short of his 23rd birthday, in part because of accelerated school programs in place in Kansas City, at KU and in the military during World War II.

James said his brother's studies in medicine did not afford him much time for taking classes outside the medical field.

"But Richard was always interested in literature and was fond of books and opera, and he was a patron of literary, dramatic and opera causes, among many others," James said. "He picked up on the controversy over the authorship of Shakespeare's plays, and he became an advocate of the theory that the Earl of Oxford had written Shakespeare's works."

James also noted that he and Richard discussed science fiction. "We both began reading the same pulp magazines back in 1932, but Richard's time got diverted into studies." Richard read early versions of James' 1962 novel, "The Immortals."

"'The Immortals' is dedicated to Richard," James said. "I'd consult with him periodically while I was writing it, and he'd read my speculations about future medicine and say, 'This could never happen.' Now a lot of it has come to pass."

Richard's recent gifts were not his first. A 1991 gift of $50,000 endowed a fund for the science fiction center in honor of the elder Gunns. J. Wayne Gunn died in 1990 at age 95 and Elsie Gunn died in 1994 at age 97.

"Richard took care of them in his home beginning in 1952," James said. "For about 50 years they lived with him and helped him in his practice. He was devoted to them, and when they died I think a part of him went with them."

Richard was a medical officer in the U.S. Army during and after World War II. In 1948, he joined the Missouri National Guard in Kansas City, eventually rising to the rank of colonel before retiring from the Guard in 1981. He began a neighborhood medical practice in Kansas City, Mo., in 1950 and later joined Don Carlos Peete, medicine '25, in private practice in internal medicine. Despite a 1989 heart attack, Richard continued with the practice for 20 years after Don's death, operating it out of a home office.

The gift from Richard's estate counts toward the goal of KU First: Invest in Excellence, the largest fund-raising campaign in KU history. KU Endowment is conducting KU First on behalf of KU through 2004 to raise in excess of $600 million for scholarships, fellowships, professorships, capital projects and program support. KU Endowment serves as the independent, nonprofit fund-raising and fund-management organization for KU.

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