Pat and Jim Poitras decided to make their generous gift to establish the Poitras Center for Psychiatric Disorders Research, very shortly after hearing Robert Desimone address a meeting of the McGovern Institute’s Leadership Board in November 2006. There, Desimone described a long-range plan for the future of the Institute and the creation of a new initiative for brain disease and mental illness.
“We were pleased with this newly stated purpose to bring basic research into practice. We had decided many years ago that our philanthropic efforts would be directed towards this psychiatric research. We could not have imagined then that this perfect synergy between research at MIT’s McGovern Institute and our own philanthropic goals would develop," recalls Jim Poitras, a 1963 MIT alumnus with a degree in electrical engineering.
“After hearing Bob, we talked with Pat and Lore McGovern over dinner," continues Pat, “and realized we could help make this happen faster than even they had hoped. We are very hopeful for the future."
The Poitras’s have committed $20 million to support research on major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other psychiatric disorders at the center.
When friends ask why they are contributing to MIT rather than to a new research facility near their Orlando home, Jim tells them: “The best bang for the buck is at MIT, right here, right now."
After graduating from MIT, Jim worked in research, computer programming, and administration at Massachusetts General Hospital until 1979. For 22 years, he headed the family’s medical products manufacturing business, Highland Laboratories, Inc., based in Ashland, MA. Jim retired in 2006 as President and CEO of the company, and he continues to manage other family investments.
Pat’s career was in social work, and she is president of the Poitras Charitable Foundation. Both are members of the McGovern Institute Leadership Board. They are longstanding donors to MIT and have previously endowed the James W. and Patricia T. Poitras Professorship Fund in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in the field of psychiatric research.
In addition to their gifts to MIT, Pat and Jim fund community outreach programs for the mentally ill. Jim recalls that his father, Edward J. Poitras ’28, credited his success to what MIT gave him—a full scholarship, including train fare for his daily commute. “He reciprocated generously throughout his life and encouraged me to give back to MIT, too. But our philanthropic focus was psychiatry and MIT wasn’t doing much psychiatric research. Now, with the McGovern Institute, that problem is resolved."