Duke Benefactor Edmund T. Pratt Jr. Dies

DURHAM, N.C. -- Edmund T. Pratt Jr., the retired chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer Inc. for whom Duke University's Pratt School of Engineering is named, died of cancer at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City on Thursday. He was 75.

"Ed Pratt was a wonderful person, gracious and generous, humble and someone who really enjoyed life," said Pratt School Dean Kristina Johnson.

"He had an easy rapport with our students, telling them that he was 'just lucky' in life. We were the lucky ones to be in his life. He had an amazing smile and a presence that lit up a room. He will be missed tremendously by all of us. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family."

Said Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane, "Ed Pratt had a tremendous impact on the School of Engineering and the university. His gifts were very significant, but equally important was the time he devoted to his alma mater as a wise and trusted adviser. I always appreciated his counsel and greatly valued his friendship; we will miss him dearly."

Pratt, who received his electrical engineering degree from Duke in 1947, first arrived on campus as a 17-year-old naval officer trainee. Standing on the train platform holding his trumpet case, the young musician worried that he had never seen Duke University, to which he had been assigned.

"I got on this Navy bus and we went through all these woods," he recalled in an interview. "And then we turned this corner, and I could see up the street to this chapel. And I thought 'My God, I'm going to heaven!' And it's been that way ever since. Duke has been like a heaven for me."

After three years of military training, classes and trumpet-playing in Duke orchestras and at local nightclubs, he graduated magna cum laude. And, still wearing his cap and gown, he walked up to his favorite professor, Keith MacKichan, and said, "You know, I really enjoyed studying with you, and how you dealt with my little peculiarities (which included napping in class due to his late-night trumpet-playing). You were a really good teacher, and I really appreciated it."

To which MacKichan replied "Hellfire, Pratt, one of these days you're going to come back and donate a million dollars to the school!" The professor vastly underestimated Pratt's generosity, for in 1999 he donated $35 million to the school of engineering, which became the Edmund T. Pratt Jr. School of Engineering. The gift is the largest in the engineering school's history.

After Duke, Pratt entered the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business, receiving his MBA with honors in 1949. He began his career as a salesman at IBM Corp. His career was interrupted for two years by the Korean War, when he served with the Navy in Charleston, S.C. He returned to IBM in 1954, and by 1962 he had risen to become controller of the IBM World Trade Corp., when he joined the Kennedy administration as assistant secretary of the Army for Financial Management.

He left government in 1964 to join Pfizer as corporate controller, rising through the ranks to become president in 1971 and chairman and CEO in 1972.

During his 20 years in that position, Pratt saw Pfizer's annual revenues increase sevenfold, from $1 billion to nearly $7 billion. He also significantly increased Pfizer's global reach to include operations in 140 countries.

On the occasion of Pratt's endowment of the engineering school, Johnson called him "a forward-looking leader, who unerringly supported investment in research as a cornerstone of his management philosophy and as the basis for bold new ventures.

"Equally important, Ed Pratt earned a well-deserved reputation not only as a talented and creative executive, but as a humane leader whose concern for his employees made Pfizer among the most desirable corporations in which to work," the engineering dean said. "These are exactly the qualities our faculty seek to instill in our students, and we believe Duke engineering students will be inspired by his example."

Pratt was also active in business, civic and charitable affairs, so much so that then-New York Gov. Mario Cuomo called him "a walking definition of civic responsibility."

Among Pratt's many awards was the 1986 Gantt Award by the American Management Association and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers for his "distinguished achievement in management as a service to the community."

His charitable work has included leadership positions in the United Way, the Boys Clubs of America, the Hugh O'Brien Youth Foundation and the Girl Scouts. He has also been an active contributor to higher education, for example, donating $12 million in 1988 to Long Island University to fund new facilities.

At Duke, Pratt served as a trustee from 1977 to 1988. He also served on the board of the Fuqua School of Business, the Engineering Development Committee, the Capital Gifts Committee and the Leadership Gift Committee. Upon his retirement from Pfizer, the company established in his honor at Duke the Pfizer Inc. Edmund T. Pratt Jr. University Professorship.

In 1997, the university named the Pratt Commons of the Levine Science Research Center in his honor, following his $1 million gift to the center. And in October 2001, he was presented with the Distinguished Alumni Award by Keohane, who expressed the university's pride "in being able to count one of its own this accomplished executive, distinguished volunteer and dedicated philanthropist."

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