Communications magnate Don Tykeson calls multiple sclerosis his “old friend.” In fact, he attributes his business success to his MS diagnosis.
He was 30 years old, a former farmer, fishing-boat cook and classified-ad salesman trying to make it in a new industry: television. He’d spurned his father’s offer to become partners on the family farm, and now, told that his MS would put him in a wheelchair within five years, he felt an urgent need to gain some control over his and his young family’s future.
“I knew I needed to be bold and take some risks,” he said. “In that sense, MS has served me well.”
Thus began a series of acquisitions in broadcast and cable TV. It took Tykeson 19 years to turn his original $30,000 investment in a struggling Oregon TV station into a successful enterprise capable of launching his many future professional and philanthropic endeavors.
Ten years ago, he and his wife, Willie, who have three children and six grandchildren, started a charitable trust to make gifts to health care, education and the arts. Their support of the National MS Society has included funding MS research at Oregon Health and Science University and supporting programs and services for people with MS throughout the Pacific Northwest. He is an honorary life director of the MS Society’s national Board of Directors and served on an important National Institutes of Health committee. He’s been honored with the Society’s Hope Award in recognition of outstanding service, the Eugene Area Chamber of Commerce’s First Citizen award, and the University of Oregon Pioneer Award.
Since 2008, the Tykesons have provided financial support for the Tykeson MS Fellows Conference, a forum for young scientists who have been encouraged in their early careers by Society Fellowships. At the conference they meet MS researchers, share ideas, network, get advice and discuss avenues for future research. The event ensures that MS stays front and center in their careers.
“History shows that scientific breakthroughs often come from new thinking, fresh ideas and young people,” Tykeson said. “What could be better than encouraging young scientists ready to embark on careers in biomedical research to focus on the final path of finding the way to stop MS cold?” With funding for young investigators often hard to come by, this conference and the work of these investigators is crucial.
“The Tykeson Fellows Conference motivates young MS researchers and fosters collaborations that will help shore up their dedication to helping us move closer to a cure,” noted Patricia O’Looney, PhD, vice president of Biomedical Research at the Society.