The Gift

“We see this gift as an opportunity to give back in a meaningful way to a cause that is important to everyone,” said Craft O’Neal, chairman and CEO of O’Neal Industries.

O’Neal Industries, Inc., a family-owned global business based in Birmingham, gave the largest single gift in UAB’s history — a $30 million donation to the Comprehensive Cancer Center that will allow the center to enhance cancer research, patient care, education and prevention.

Members of the O’Neal family have been business and political leaders in Alabama for generations. Edward O’Neal was Alabama’s 26th governor, and his son Emmet served as the state’s 34th governor. Kirkman O’Neal was a pioneer in Birmingham’s burgeoning steel industry, founding what was to become O’Neal Steel in 1921. The family now operates O’Neal Industries Inc., the nation’s largest family-owned group of metals service centers.

“We see this gift as an opportunity to give back in a meaningful way to a cause that is important to everyone,” says Craft O’Neal, chairman and CEO of O’Neal Industries and grandson of Kirkman. “We hope the gift will be used in ways that will yield the greatest results, accelerating progress in research, treatment and prevention of cancer and, ultimately, eliminate cancer as a major public health problem.”

The O’Neal family has been touched by cancer. Kirkman’s son and successor, Emmet, Craft’s father, died from emergency surgery associated with colon cancer, and his daughter Libby O’Neal White was a breast cancer survivor. Her husband, David White, succumbed to cancer, as did Craft O’Neal’s mother Mary Anne and his brother Kirk. Additional members of both the O’Neal and White families have both survived and lost their lives to cancer.

“The O’Neal and White families know too well the devastating effects of cancer, and together we were motivated by the opportunity to play a role in extending the lives of those with cancer in the region, while honoring our family members who have been afflicted by the disease,” O’Neal says.

The O’Neal Comprehensive Cancer Center at UAB is home to more than 400 scientists and physician-scientists and is involved in more than 200 clinical trials of new, promising therapeutics, many using therapies that were developed at UAB. The center treats an estimated 5,000 new patients each year.

“The university carries so much weight and has such a great reputation. We had this wonderful cancer center, but it was like a candle underneath a basket. One of the challenges with the branding was it was not named. We have a real opportunity to bring it to the next level,” says Michael J. Birrer, M.D., Ph.D., director of the center

“Now our job is to take the center and really brand it. From my perspective I would love it if patients in a  few years would say I am going to the O’Neal. That would connote cutting research and a national reputation, a destination cancer center. That is our next job,” Dr. Birrer says.

“We were motivated by Dr. Birrer’s plans for the CCC and his vision for the future and wanted to provide resources to achieve that vision,” says O’Neal. “His bold and aggressive plans to elevate UAB’s CCC to one of even greater prominence was exciting and something we wanted to be a part of. Our family knows too well the devastating effects of cancer and was motivated by the opportunity to play a role in extending the lives of those with cancer in the region while honoring our family members that have been afflicted by the disease. Lastly, the economic impact our gift would have on Birmingham and our state was important.”

O’Neal sees the importance of UAB.

“UAB is the economic engine of Birmingham and to a large extent the state of Alabama. The importance of a thriving UAB to our city’s prosperity cannot be overstated. Our company has a nearly 100 year history here and that will continue. We strive to be a good corporate citizen both in our giving and volunteerism. This city and state have been great to us and we like giving back. Supporting the various areas within UAB is not only a great way to advance UAB’s success, but that of the city and state as well,” O’Neal says.

“I love Birmingham and am thrilled with the trajectory of progress in our city in becoming a more desirable and vibrant area in which to live. Anything that continues that momentum is important to me. My understanding is that for every dollar invested in the CCC there is at least a $14 return. That’s pretty spectacular and I love the fact our gift will help in that regard. Our gift will enable Dr. Birrer to recruit highly paid researchers, clinicians and support staff, not to mention all of the ancillary positions created in the community as a result of the CCC’s expansion and successes. Grants received from the NIH and NCI will grow, pumping additional funds into our economy. Our CCC will become THE choice for cancer patients regionally and eventually nationally. My hope is others will see the exciting developments at our CCC and want to invest in its future and that of our city as well.

Craft O’Neal greets Dr. Michael Birrer, director of the cancer center.

O’Neal says: “It makes me very proud and I’d love to see someone come forward with a larger gift. I’ll never forget my conversation with Dr. Birrer when we first met. He told me he his top two priorities were a naming gift and to raise funds for a free standing cancer center. One of those goals has been achieved and now it’s on to number two. Anyone out there interested?” •


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