Duke Benefactor Edmund T. Pratt Jr. Dies
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 Sept. 5. 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
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
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
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
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
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."