Ohio Wesleyan Receives $5 Million Contribution to Benefit OWU Connection

John F. and Kathryn Bradford Milligan, both 1983 alumni, are contributing $5 million to Ohio Wesleyan to support the OWU Connection. (Photo by Lisa Digiacomo)

John F. and Kathryn Bradford Milligan, both 1983 alumni, are contributing $5 million to Ohio Wesleyan to support the OWU Connection. (Photo by Lisa Digiacomo)

DELAWARE, Ohio – Ohio Wesleyan University has received a $5 million gift from alumni and current OWU parents John F. and Kathryn Bradford Milligan of Hillsborough, California. Both are members of the OWU Class of 1983.

Their gift supports continued development of the OWU Connection, a faculty-led curricular initiative that strives to connect academic theory with real-world practice; cross traditional academic department boundaries to support deeper, interconnected learning; and prepare students for meaningful global citizenship and leadership.

Their gift will create “The John and Kathryn Bradford Milligan ’83/’83 Endowed Fund for the OWU Connection.” The curricular initiative, begun in 2009, already has been awarded two Andrew W. Mellon Foundation grants and has been heralded in the influential guidebook “Colleges That Change Lives.” According to the book, the OWU Connection “formalizes [the OWU] spirit of collaboration and adds a shot of adventure.”

This bold description also applies to John Milligan, Ph.D., who majored in chemistry at Ohio Wesleyan, earned his doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Illinois, and served as an American Cancer Society postdoctoral fellow at the University of California at San Francisco.

Today, Milligan is president and chief operating officer of Gilead Sciences, Inc., a Foster City, California-based biopharmaceutical company that discovers, develops, and commercializes therapeutics in areas of unmet medical need. The company’s mission is to “advance the care of patients suffering from life-threatening diseases worldwide.” Gilead has operations in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

“I am a big advocate of a liberal arts education,” said Milligan, whose ties to Ohio Wesleyan include serving as the incoming vice chair of its Board of Trustees. He especially recalls the impact of a humanities course on his future as a scientist. The course, which explored moral decisions in public and private settings, included reading “The Plague” by Albert Camus. The book examines an outbreak of the bubonic plague and the behavior of those quarantined.

“The in-class discussions of the behaviors and motivations of people under tremendous duress fascinated me,” said Milligan, who recently recounted the experience for the national Council of Independent Colleges. “The prospect of a deadly disease wiping out a society horrified me. Ironically, the year I read ‘The Plague’ was the same year that an unknown and deadly infectious disease was first described in scientific literature. Within a few years, America was experiencing its own plague as HIV/AIDS took hold.

“After I received my Ph.D., and at the height of the epidemic, I joined a small company that was directing its efforts to finding ways to combat HIV,” Milligan continued. “Through hard work and persistence, our team was able to create a new medicine that was able to control the virus. When given with other medicines for HIV, it was highly effective, and as a result, there was a dramatic slowing in the death rate and HIV-infected people began living longer.

“Did one book discussed in one course make all this happen for me? Not literally, of course,” Milligan said. “However, the book and discussions stuck with me for many years and influenced my choices. I saw the world differently as a result of what I had learned in the classroom and made choices accordingly. … I have my liberal arts education and many professors to thank for preparing me to move out of my comfort zone, tackle new challenges, and succeed.”

Kathryn Bradford Milligan majored in speech communications at Ohio Wesleyan, leading to a fascinating six-year career at the Federal Bureau of Investigations. She was a national spokesperson for the FBI at its headquarters in Washington, D.C., as well as at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia. After leaving the FBI, she worked as a consultant for crisis and issue management and media relations for Fortune 500 companies.

“The education I received at Ohio Wesleyan gave me a solid base in the liberal arts,” she said. “But OWU gave me so much more than an education. I was able to form relationships with peers and professors that helped me to move confidently forward in my career and in life. John and I are fortunate to count many of our closest friends as OWU graduates. We are confident that the same will be true for our son.”

University President Rock Jones, Ph.D., said the new gift is especially meaningful, given that both John and Kathryn Milligan are Ohio Wesleyan graduates and also the parents of a current student, Bradford F. Milligan, Class of 2015.

“Both John and Kathie recognize the potential and power of an OWU education,” said Jones, noting they also are leaders of the university’s campaign planning committee, which has spent the last year examining priorities to determine where philanthropic investments will make the biggest impact. “For them to support the university with a $5 million gift is rewarding and humbling. Their generosity and vision allow us to create an ever more powerful and transformational educational experience for our students.”

Thomas R. Tritton, Ph.D., incoming chair of the Ohio Wesleyan Board of Trustees, agreed the gift is significant, both in its size and its scope.

“The OWU Connection is one of the most original innovations in college curricula that I’ve seen in a long time, and it is having an outsize impact on the student experience here,” said Tritton, a 1969 OWU graduate and retired college president. “Kathie and John Milligan’s fabulously generous gift ensures that OWU will be able to sustain this impact on both current and future students.”

Kevin J. McGinty, chair of the campaign planning committee, said the Milligans have set an example for others to follow.

“Kathie and John’s gift to further the development and expansion of the OWU Connection exemplifies their positions as passionate OWU supporters, visionaries, and leaders,” said McGinty, a 1970 OWU alumnus. “Their significant financial gift sets a high bar and helps us develop momentum in providing the OWU community with resources to support future needs.”

The couple’s latest gift also continues to enhance both the Milligan and Bradford family legacies at Ohio Wesleyan, which include many generations of OWU alumni.

Kathryn Bradford Milligan’s alumni ties date back to 1904, when her great uncle, J. Paul Thompson, earned his OWU diploma. Those ties also include her great aunt, Georgella Ikert Thompson, Class of 1906, and grandmother, Doris Ann Thompson Peake, Class of 1924. In addition, her sister, Anne Bradford, and brother, Cameron Bradford, were members of the Classes of 1980 and 1982, respectively.

John Milligan’s ties to Ohio Wesleyan begin with his great grandparents, Melvin Lee Milligan and Jennie Fairbanks Milligan, who graduated in 1884 and 1887, respectively. The ties also include, on his great grandfather’s side, Thomas Iliff, one of the original endowers of Ohio Wesleyan, and John Wesley Iliff, his son, who attended the university in the 1850s. Milligan’s great uncle was Charles Warren Fairbanks, Class of 1872, who served as vice president of the United States under Theodore Roosevelt. Milligan’s grandfather, Robert Lee Milligan, graduated in the Class of 1922 and was a lifetime OWU trustee. Milligan’s uncles, Warren and Robert, were members of the Classes of 1952 and 1956, respectively, and his brother, Scott Milligan, is a graduate of the Class of 1990.

Learn more about the OWU Connection curricular initiative at http://owuconnection.owu.edu. Learn more about giving to the university at http://giving.owu.edu.


Founded in 1842, Ohio Wesleyan University is one of the nation’s premier liberal arts universities. Located in Delaware, Ohio, the private, coed university offers more than 90 undergraduate majors, minors, and concentrations, and competes in 23 NCAA Division III varsity sports. Ohio Wesleyan combines a challenging, internationally focused curriculum with off-campus learning and leadership opportunities to connect classroom theory with real-world practice. OWU’s 1,850 students represent 42 states and 37 countries. Ohio Wesleyan is featured in the book “Colleges That Change Lives,” listed on the 2013 President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction, and included in the U.S. News & World Report and Princeton Review “best colleges” lists. Learn more at www.owu.edu.

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