This is a version of comments to the University of Kentucky Board of Trustees.
August for me was a time of deep reflection. I celebrated my 65th birthday and 36th wedding anniversary. We welcomed the largest, most academically prepared and most diverse class in UK's history.
To celebrate, my family and I traveled to Normandy, where we walked the beaches and fields of battle.
In the American cemetery, 9,386 brave souls rest and the names of another 1,557 missing are inscribed in stone.
Each tells a story.
Fate drew us to one.
The name on the marker is Howard Henry, a Ranger and a Kentuckian. He died two years before the invasion, one of the first two American citizen soldiers to shed blood on European soil.
Howard Henry, from Harlan, wanted to be an electrical engineer.
Mary Lynne and I often ask new students where they are from and what they want to study.
This year, I frequently heard, "I want to be an engineer." Indeed, this first-year class has 800 engineering majors. That is good news for Kentucky, which ranks in the bottom five states in engineering graduates.
Later, we hosted a dinner for several graduates who have been generous to UK. We listened to dazzling stories of successes from construction to commerce.
My thoughts returned to Howard Henry — what blessings our state would have known from his full life and about the lives he saved.
A passage from the Hebrew Talmud says "whoever saves one life, saves the world entire." We are being called — to educate and serve, to save lives and to build communities.
I also recently traveled to Hazard, joining Congressman Hal Rogers and Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden.
UK was everywhere — clinicians, extension agents, investigators and professionals dedicated to communities.
Frieden unveiled preliminary data that showed there are hundreds of preventable deaths in Kentucky's 5th Congressional District for the top five killers — cancer, heart disease, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and unintentional injuries.
Every three years, we fill a cemetery the size of the one I saw in Normandy.
Isn't this unacceptable?
Yet, I believe this defines hope.
From Madisonville to Manchester, in Louisville and Lexington, UK is engaged in partnerships to improve education, extend life and find ways to renew communities.
Consider one example: Through the efforts of the Kentucky Cancer Consortium at the Markey Cancer Center, the colorectal screening rate in Kentucky has gone from 49th to 20th. The incidence rate has dropped 24 percent and the death rate dropped 28 percent.
Health disparities — whether by circumstance, region, income or race — can be overcome. Leading researchers want to join us but we cannot accommodate them because we are out of quality research space.
We all know that medical misfortunes do not care who they touch or crush. Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, ALS or juvenile diabetes will find us. The result is dreams deferred or lost, lives — like Howard Henry's — unfulfilled.
It is time to make death a beggar in Kentucky.
Cellular discoveries that can lead to personalized medicine are on the horizon if we are willing as individuals and a commonwealth to invest — now.
What choice will we make?
Mary Lynne and I recently announced our $250,000 gift to UK to fight health disparities and save lives. Specifically, toward building a multi-disciplinary research building.
Such a facility, focused on the seemingly intractable scourges confronting Kentucky, can change our state for the next 100 years.
Our gift alone is not enough. We need others to join us. We need our state to listen when we ask for bucks for buildings and brains. Let us plant today for that brighter tomorrow within our grasp.