The University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy and Ole Miss Athletics stand to benefit from a gift in excess of $4 million received from the estate of alumnus Francis Cerniglia of Cordova, Tennessee.
Cerniglia, who supported both entities throughout his lifetime, made a planned gift in 2017, designating the university as beneficiary of this portion of his estate. His gift creates the Francis Cerniglia Staff Excellence Award Endowment; the Francis Cerniglia School of Pharmacy Support Endowment; the Francis Cerniglia Scholarship Endowment; the Francis Cerniglia Innovation/Entrepreneurship Student Support Endowment; the Francis Cerniglia Faculty Endowment; and the Francis Cerniglia Faculty Award Support and Practice Innovation Award Endowment.
The 1959 pharmacy graduate and Rebel basketball fan last visited campus the same year and received a tour of the Sandy and John Black Pavilion, UM’s basketball arena, as a token of appreciation for his three-decade history of financial contributions to the university.
At the time, Cerniglia said he chose to support the two entities because, “the School of Pharmacy allowed me to have a successful life in my chosen field” and “since 1947, when Ole Miss won the SEC championship in John Vaught’s first year as head football coach, I immediately became attached to Rebel sports and never looked back.”
The retired pharmacist said he found the SJB Pavilion and the campus, in general, to be “remarkable.”
“I have merely echoed what everybody has been saying about The Pavilion — a stupendous addition to the Ole Miss sports field!” he exclaimed. “My tour of the campus was most impressive to one who had not had the chance to view the campus in several years.”
In 2001, Cerniglia directed the funds from his mother’s estate into an endowment to reward School of Pharmacy faculty for excellence in teaching.
Barbara Wells, then the school’s dean, considered the donor a friend.
“Francis Cerniglia was a kind, compassionate and generous man, and I admire him so much for these personal qualities. He cared particularly about students, faculty, quality teaching, the practice of pharmacy and the patients he served,” said Wells, now a resident of Bentonville, Arkansas. “He was a cherished and good friend to me and a good friend to the Ole Miss School of Pharmacy and his profession. I will greatly miss him and our occasional lunches at Macaroni Grill.
“This transformational gift from his own estate will bless our faculty and students in perpetuity,” Wells continued. “Thank you, Francis, for your love of the School of Pharmacy and for the lessons you leave us.”
Pharmacy Dean Donna Strum said Cerniglia’s unrestricted gift in excess of $3 million will make a highly positive impact on the school.
“We are extremely thankful and humbled by Mr. Cerniglia’s support over the years and we offer our sincerest condolences to his family and friends,” Strum said. “We understand that Mr. Cerniglia’s estate gift is a testament to his love for the school as well as for the pharmacy profession.
“The support fund it establishes will be used to fulfill some of the school’s greatest needs on behalf of our students and faculty,” Strum said.
Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Keith Carter, who accompanied the alumnus on his Pavilion tour, said Cerniglia’s gift in excess of $1 million will make a positive impact on Ole Miss sports programs.
“It was a pleasure to get to know Mr. Cerniglia, and I extend my sympathies to his family and friends. I remember that he was eager to talk with me about Rebel basketball and, as a former player, I always enjoy visiting with such a great fan of the sport,” he said.
“His gifts to our program will help keep us competitive for years to come, and we greatly appreciate his generosity and support.”
A Greenwood, Mississippi, native, Cerniglia’s first experience in pharmacy was during a summer internship at Chaney’s Pharmacy in his hometown. Earnings were quite different back then – Cerniglia made $50 per week in his early days at the store and said he was very satisfied with it.
“That was new training for me as I hadn’t had much experience filling prescriptions yet,” he said. “I had to quickly apply what I learned in the classroom.”
After graduating from college, Cerniglia went to work for Morgan’s Pharmacy in Yazoo City, Mississippi. It was an “old-timey” pharmacy where the “smell of medicine would knock you out,” he said.
Cerniglia later joined the staff at Walgreens in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where he worked for eight years before deciding to relocate.
“I could have gone to New Orleans,” he said. “Though I love it there, I decided to work in Memphis.”
Cerniglia worked for Walgreens in Memphis for 32 years before retiring in 1992.
Cerniglia’s planned gift awarded him membership in the 1848 Society, named for the year the university welcomed its first students. The society recognizes generous donors who thoughtfully provide for the university through planned and deferred gifts.
By Bill Dabney