Life Of Ed Pratt To Be Celebrated Nov. 1 In Duke Chapel

DURHAM, N.C -- A public celebration of the life of Edmund T. Pratt Jr. will be held at 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 1, in Duke University Chapel. The retired chairman and chief executive officer of Pfizer Inc., for whom Duke’s Pratt School of Engineering is named, died of cancer Sept. 5 at the age of 75.

Duke President Nannerl O. Keohane, Pratt Dean Kristina M. Johnson, university Trustee Peter M. Nicholas and Pratt student Kyle Smith BME ‘03 will share remembrances of Pratt. Members of the university and Durham communities are invited to the event.

"Ed was an extraordinary man who had a tremendous impact on many people during his lifetime," Johnson said. "This will be an opportunity for the students, faculty and people of Duke to celebrate his remarkable life."

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 once said 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.

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."