Fund honors William Procter

BAR HARBOR — The William Procter Scientific Innovation Fund has been established at the MDI Biological Laboratory in honor of William Procter (1873-1951), a businessman, entrepreneur and scientist. Procter’s seven-part “Biological Survey of the Mount Desert Region,” published between 1927 and 1946, has been an invaluable resource for biologists studying the fauna of the Mount Desert region.

The fund will provide up to $50,000 annually to full-time faculty members, students or research fellows at the MDI Biological Laboratory or its spinoffs to support areas including high-risk/high-impact research, basic scientific research with potential for commercialization and education programs focused on translating scientific discoveries into commercial applications.

“We are enormously grateful for the establishment of the Procter Fund, which will support research that may be perceived as conceptually risky by traditional funding sources,” said Kevin Strange, president of the laboratory. “The fund honors the legacy of Procter, who as a creative businessman recognized the need for out-of-the-box approaches to make revolutionary advances.”

The fund was established by a member of Procter’s family in honor of his achievements in science and business. Strange and his wife and laboratory manager Rebecca Morrison attracted the interest of the donor by highlighting the parallels between Procter’s achievements and the institution’s current focus on translating scientific discoveries into therapies to treat major diseases and improve quality of life.

Procter was the grandson of William Procter, founder of Procter & Gamble, and an active board member until his death. He also was a co-owner of Procter and Borden, a Manhattan securities firm. But his real love was science, to which he devoted most of his life. In addition to the survey, which he launched at the MDI Biological Laboratory in the 1920s, he was an active supporter of many scientific causes and organizations.

“Procter’s interest was in the diversity of life,” said Strange. “Though nearly a century has elapsed since he began his work here, we are still studying that diversity. Our focus is on studying diverse, highly regenerative animals in order to develop drugs that trigger our innate capacities for regeneration. In his combined interests in nature and entrepreneurship, Procter anticipated where the institution is today.”

Procter made significant contributions to the laboratory, for which he served as trustee and president. Under the influence of early naturalists like Louis Agassiz, a Harvard professor who urged his students to “study nature, not books,” he established a research station at the laboratory in 1921. Though he would later relocate to a larger facility at his summer cottage, Corfield, in Bar Harbor, the buildings he constructed remain.

Today, Procter’s collection is housed at the William Otis Sawtelle Collections and Research Center at the headquarters of Acadia National Park in Bar Harbor, where it is used to study changes that have occurred in insect and marine life, Procter’s main areas of interest. Scott Swann, a lecturer in natural history at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, has called the survey “a brilliant data set that is stunning, complete, and meticulous.”

Procter’s interest in innovation grew out of his board membership at Procter & Gamble. “For more than 175 years, innovation has been in our DNA,” reads a company slogan. One of the company’s innovators was Procter’s farther, Harley Thomas Procter, a marketing pioneer who turned P&G into a household name with his decision to rename its soap “Ivory.”

Procter is also known in the scientific world for his establishment in 1950 of the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement. The prize is awarded annually by Sigma Xi, a scientific research honor society. The awardees include the most illustrious scientific names of the modern era.


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