Homecoming 2021 was made extraordinary by a visit and announcement from R. Ken Coit ’67, who is counted among the University of Arizona’s most generous alumni. Coit added to his already generous legacy of philanthropy and volunteer service at the College of Pharmacy by making a $50 million gift commitment, together with his wife, Donna, through their family foundation. The college now bears his name in recognition.
The couple’s gift is the largest in the college’s history. It establishes six endowed chairs in drug discovery, neurodegenerative diseases and toxicology, as well as an endowment to support scholarships for the college’s doctor of pharmacy and doctoral programs.
The gift also funds strategic investments in research equipment and facility upgrades and expands a wing of the college’s museum, which will now be known as the Coit Museum of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. The grand opening is scheduled for fall.
“It is my goal to see the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy take its place among the top three programs in the nation,” Coit says. “With this gift, the college can recruit the best and brightest students and faculty, who will go on to change the face of health care around the world.”
R. Ken Coit doesn’t shy away from a challenge. To the contrary, he lives his life by the motto, “Whatever is worth doing, is worth overdoing,” encapsulating an eagerness to push beyond his limits.
As a high schooler, Coit’s inclination toward science motivated him to enroll in pharmacy school at the University of Arizona, and he pushed himself to master the rigorous curriculum and ultimately earned his Bachelor of Science in pharmacy.
After a few years working in pharmacy, he sought out his next challenge, diving headfirst into the complex world of real estate investing. Always looking to expand his skill set, he graduated with an MBA from Pepperdine while raising a family and managing Coit Financial, his rapidly growing business.
“I’ve been blessed with a pretty strong work ethic. I always want to try harder than a lot of other people, and I think that’s a blessing.”
In 2020, Coit took on his greatest challenge yet: solidifying his legacy. To do this, he pledged $50 million to name the R. Ken Coit College of Pharmacy, establishing the largest gift in college history and helping to prepare the next generation of pharmacists and pharmaceutical scientists for the challenges of the future.
Coit attended the College of Pharmacy from 1963 until 1967. While in school, he established an intramural sports team, participated in clubs and organizations, and developed lasting relationships with his professors, who instilled fundamental lessons that Coit has carried throughout his personal and professional life.
“I may not be a pharmacist now, but I learned a lot in pharmacy school that’s still important to me,” says Coit.
“My professors demonstrated high ethical standards and integrity, and taught me how to take care of patients. They really instilled that we were there to take care of others. I kept and transferred that value when I changed to investing. I believe that my first responsibility is to take care of my clients, and I think that has been the foundation of my success. The College of Pharmacy was an instrument that helped me be as successful as I am.”
One professor in particular, Albert L. Picchioni, was a valued mentor. “He loved what he was doing, and you could see it in the way he taught the class,” explains Coit. “I’ll never forget his pharmacology class! That’s the kind of person whose work I want to support.”
Coit’s philanthropic spirit began at an early age with an influence from his mother. During his childhood in a small farming community in central California, she encouraged him to donate the clothes he had outgrown to his classmates with fewer means.
“I learned from my mother when I was growing up that we all had to help other people in whatever ways we can,” says Coit. “I really learned about helping others from her.”
As a young pharmacist fresh out of college, he continued to give in ways big and small, driven by a motivation to do what was right. That desire has since expanded into the Coit Family Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic organization.
Throughout the years, Coit has been a valued adviser and philanthropic partner to the College of Pharmacy. Over the last decade, he has established two endowed positions to reward the dedication of pharmacy faculty. In 2016, he was the first to step up to the Skaggs Pharmaceutical Center Challenge, a campaign to transform the college's facility into a hub for innovative research and education. In addition to making a gift himself, he took on a leadership role in the campaign, encouraging fellow alums to donate to the cause.
“I think leading by example is a powerful way of doing things,” Coit explains. With his most recent gift, he has created six new endowed chair positions, four new endowed professorships and more than 100 scholarships for prospective and current PharmD students and students in the Ph.D. program.
A significant portion of the funds also will go toward expanding the research footprint of the college, a pursuit Coit is particularly passionate about.
“It’s possible that one of the professors whose work is being funded through this gift will make a big breakthrough in cancer research, for instance, or neurodegenerative diseases,” says Coit.
“If you don’t fund the research in the first place, you never know if you’re going to make progress.”
As he grows older, Coit acknowledges his desire to see more research in the field of neurodegenerative diseases as partly selfishly motivated. But with approximately 50 million Americans affected by the more than 600 neurological disorders, it’s an example of self-interest aligning with global good.
The College of Pharmacy currently ranks seventh in the nation based on research funding and grants, a position Coit is determined to raise. His goal for the college, which he describes as “just under audacious,” is to see it ranked among the top three programs in the nation and continuing to attract the best and brightest of students and faculty.
His plan of attack focuses on multiple fronts, dedicating funds toward faculty, research, facilities and scholarships to remove barriers for those students whose financial circumstances would make it difficult to attend otherwise.
While rankings and numbers are important, Coit is also focused on making sure the students coming out of the college understand the importance of their achievement.
“I think if you get a degree from the University of Arizona College of Pharmacy, you've done something pretty substantive. And the sky’s the limit, if you want it to be.”