The Path to Pay it Forward: A Duke Family Committed to Changing the World
We sat down with major donors Todd Brady, (MD’99, PhD’98) and Andrea Darling (MA’96, JD’99), a married couple of 26 years whose son, Alex, started as a freshman at Duke University in fall 2022. We took a walk down memory lane as they reflected on their Duke experiences, past and present. Brady and Darling described their path around Duke being connected by mentors, explained why they choose to give back, and shared what they hope to accomplish through their philanthropy. They are changing the world, and are dedicated to raising children who are passionate about making a positive difference.
Student Experience: Mentor Connections
Brady and Darling met while they were undergraduates at Dartmouth College. He was a year ahead of her when he applied to Duke University Medical School.
“I got in, amazingly,” Brady recalled. “Andrea followed me to Duke for Romance Studies. The caliber of faculty at the graduate school is what attracted us.”
Darling pursued her master’s degree in French Literature, then attended Duke University School of Law. They both graduated in 1999.
To help fund her studies, Darling participated in a work-study program throughout her time as a student at Dartmouth, in addition to working at Duke part-time as well. They are big believers in that kind of financial support.
They reminisced about their favorite things about Duke:
I loved going to the pottery studio, and to the practice studios below the music library,” said Darling. “Duke was a whole new ball game, with bright, funny, serious thinkers. People who were committed. I had professors in graduate school who were legends in their fields, like David F. Bell, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Romance Studies; and Linda Orr, PhD, Professor Emeritus of Romance Studies. They were dedicated to the craft of teaching. I enjoyed learning all the pedagogy. I got to do that as a graduate student. I loved learning how to teach undergrads. I knew how important it was to know how to teach, and to focus on giving them the best possible education,” she said.
Brady’s experience as a medical student was vastly different. “Duke is a premier medical school, and I focused on research,” he recalled. “My experience was remarkable in that I didn’t apply to the MD-PhD program, per se. I went to medical school first, then did research in my third year. At that point, I applied for graduate school. Duke was remarkably accommodating. As an undergrad, I was a philosophy/psychology major, not biology or genetics major, for instance. So, it was a leap to go to graduate school for a hard-core science! I was funded as a graduate student, and blown away by how open it was– particularly the Pathology Department. I interviewed potential thesis advisors, and chose James D. Crapo, MD, who left to be chair of Medicine for National Jewish in Denver while I was pursuing my PhD degree. After he left, I joined the lab of the late Erwin Fridovich, PhD, James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Medicine, and prominent biochemist at Duke for more than 60 years. I was always in the lab,” he said.
Scientific icons Crapo and Fridovich became Brady’s mentors, along with the late Jo Rae Wright, former Vice Provost and Dean of Duke’s Graduate School, and a pioneer in her field of cell biology.
“She was an amazing person, accomplished in cell biology, and exemplary of the kind of reception I got from the Graduate School,” said Brady. “She was the first Dean of the Graduate School to form a Board of Visitors, which I was fortunate to be a part of. She had a positive influence on both of us. She was nurturing, supportive, and had a humanistic approach,” affirmed Brady.
“All three of my mentors were important in my development,” continued Brady. “In terms of my path, I’m still working on that same science. It’s amazing how people can change your life. I started out wanting to be a pulmonologist and have ended up in biotech,” he said.
Darling pointed out that both of their sets of mentors were from various departments across Duke.
“Duke is a place now, and was a place then, where you create your path, luck, and opportunities because there are people here to support you and guide you,” said Darling. “I left the graduate school, went to law school, and studied in Paris. I got to meld all my interests. The pedagogy I did as a graduate student isn’t something you find everywhere,” she noted.
Brady agrees that Duke is a place that supports students in creating their own paths.
“Pursuing MD and PhD degrees was something we cobbled together in real time,” said Brady. It’s a huge advantage to be able to combine your interests like that. In my experience in biotech, combinations of unique aspects of science can be critical. It’s classic Duke to combine a variety of disciplines,” he said.
Darling is especially grateful for her experience at Duke learning how to teach.
“I recently talked to a friend from Dartmouth about our experience learning to be teachers through our experience as graduate students,” she shared. “In my role now as a Law & Policy Consultant at MLPB (f/k/a Medical-Legal Partnership Boston), I teach about social determinants of health to medical residents, social workers, and other health care providers. I’m constantly going back to the lessons I learned at Duke about conveying information to people who will go on to use that learning in service of others,” she said.
The couple is broadly interested in the concept of teaching and enabling people to serve others and make the world a better place. They are doing this in their own professional ways, by researching new drugs and working toward health equity, while volunteering on local boards and finding other creative ways to give back.
Brady’s Path to Pathology
Brady attributes his journey to Duke Pathology to his thesis advisor, Crapo.
“I was interested in Pathology because that’s what biotech is about – mitigating disease,” he recalled. “They had this program in integrated toxicology that Edward Levin, PhD, Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, was the head of. I thought toxicology was interesting. At that time, the Gulf War was going on, and soldiers were coming back with strange diseases. Pathology is fundamental to medicine. That’s why we go into medicine – to help fight disease. I wanted to work in Pathology to advance science and research cures. There is no more noble goal in life than to help make people’s lives healthier and happier. That’s what translational-clinical science is,” he said.
“At first, I was annoyed by the biotech influence in our lab,” he confesses. “But I realized that, through biotech, I had the chance to help millions of people and to advance society broadly. We need to endeavor to change the world. We should leave this planet a little bit nicer than when got here, and one way to do that is to help patients. That’s why I’m interested in Pathology broadly. It’s fundamental to translational science and biotech. We need to endeavor to change the world and one way we do that is to advance science to help people,” said Brady.
Since 2012, Brady has served as the President and Chief Executive Officer of Aldeyra, a biotech company he founded. Aldeyra is currently developing therapies for ocular lymphoma, dry eye disease, allergic conjunctivitis, and systemic immune-mediated diseases, including chronic cough and alcoholic hepatitis.
Brady returned to Duke Pathology in 2018 as the keynote speaker for its annual retreat. In addition to giving us an account of his extraordinary journey from academic medicine to business entrepreneurship at Aldeyra, he gave a vivid picture of the hurdles and challenges he encountered before successfully bringing discoveries made in the lab into marketable therapeutic drugs.
Transition to Being Duke Parents
The couple’s oldest son, Alex, started his undergraduate journey at Duke in fall 2022. We asked them what they are most looking forward to about Alex being a student here.
“The Duke undergraduate program is so strong,” affirmed Darling. “We’d visited Duke several times, but Alex and Todd went down for an admissions session, and he called me to say he was blown away. When Alex got his acceptance letter, he burst the door open and was almost levitating, he was so happy. I want him to be comfortable broadly exploring the incredible range of intellectual and other opportunities that Duke offers. I know what he thinks he wants to do, and he may end up doing that, but there might be things he hasn’t yet been exposed to. He might want to explore and take advantage of all the opportunities here,” said Darling.
Alex has many different interests, including the culinary and medical fields. He also loves chemistry and science. He’s also traveled quite a bit, spending two months during his gap year volunteering in Spain, a month each on farms in Costa Rica and Guatemala, and several weeks on a dairy farm in England. He is enjoying his first Duke Spanish class this fall.
“Alex experienced compassionate medical care during his early life, and in his heart he wants to give back and pay it forward,” said Brady. He’d like to be in a health care position as an empath,” he said.
This young man is already paying it forward. Alex started a coffee company, Wolf Rock Coffee Roasters, that sources socially-indexed coffee beans and powers their coffee roaster with solar energy. It donates a portion of its profits to conservation programs, and by profit-sharing with the Wolf Conservation Organization, it is working to protect the wolf population and educate the community about wildlife conservation.
The couple’s younger son, Nick is also giving back. He is developing a family of inexpensive 3D-printed orthotic and orthopedic devices, which he hopes will aid patients in circumstances where care would otherwise be inaccessible.
“Duke is amazing,” said Darling. It’s more advanced than when we went there. It blew us away during orientation. I couldn’t be happier for Duke. When we were there as graduate students, we knew it was something special. It’s a premier top-10 institution, and we are excited for Alex to be a part of it.”
How do you see your philanthropy as a way to impact the future?
One way is changing the planet for the better in terms of helping create healthier, happier lives for people,” said Brady. “We can think in terms of medicines and therapies -bench to bedside.”
Andrea is thinking more broadly about social change, working to foster positive change in her work in addressing health-related social needs like housing instability and food insecurity. She has experience as a defense attorney who worked in child welfare. “That’s where I saw how the system is broken, and what an absolute necessity safe and stable housing is,” she recalled. “I’m looking at that array of fundamental needs and hoping to do my part to advance health equity.”
Inspired to make a difference, Andrea and Todd have established a planned gift at Duke that will provide much-needed support for the next generation of PhD graduate students in Pathology. Half of their legacy gift will provide endowed fellowship funds for the Graduate School to recruit the best and brightest candidates in pathology. The other half of their gift will support graduate education initiatives within the pathology department to ensure that future learners will have a rich and dynamic experience that propels them into service of society. Each year, Andrea and Todd also provide current funds to meet the greatest needs within the graduate school and support today’s trainees in the Department of Pathology.
The Todd Brady and Andrea Darling Scholarship for 2021-2022 was awarded to Asjah Wallace, an incoming PhD student who started in the fall of 2021.
We are grateful to Brady and Darling for the many ways they embody Duke’s closely-held value of “knowledge in service of society.” They are dedicated to transforming future generations, starting with their own family and extending out into the world through their professional work, volunteer service, advocacy, and philanthropy. We admire their commitment to pay it forward in creative and impactful ways, and look forward to seeing how they and their family continue to impact the future positively.
By Jamie Botta
January 27, 2023