Dr. Gil Omenn and Martha Darling Pledge $500,000 to the Livingston Awards Endowment

September 11, 2017

by Emily Richmond '11

  • 2017 |


Martha Darling and Gil Omenn
Martha Darling and Gil Omenn at the Livingston Awards luncheon

University of Michigan professor Dr. Gil Omenn and his wife Martha Darling contribute to a wide range of philanthropic causes, from the fine arts to medical research to environmental conservation. This year they added Wallace House to the important institutions they support. Omenn and Darling pledged $500,000 to the Livingston Awards, a prestigious annual prize which recognizes outstanding local, national and international reporting by journalists under the age of 35.

Omenn and Darling presented their gift at the Livingston Awards luncheon on June 6 in New York City. With impassioned remarks before the 200 guests gathered for the annual event, the couple expressed admiration for the work of the journalists honored and spoke with urgency about the need to publicly support the press.

“Journalism is a bedrock activity of our society, especially in the current environment,” said Omenn in an interview this month. “This is a field where young people can make a big impact. We think it’s important, it’s underinvested, and we’re delighted to participate.”

Mollie Parnis LIvingston created the awards in 1981 in memory of her son, Robert, publisher of More, a journalism review. For more than 30 years, her family foundation offered sole support to the program, which is administered by Wallace House at the University of Michigan. The Omenn-Darling gift will go toward an endowment to secure the program into the future. They join the Indian Trail Charitable Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Christiane Amanpour, and the University of Michigan among the program’s major supporters.

“This is an especially significant time to recognize and support the vital role journalism plays in our democracy,” says Lynette Clemetson, director of the Livingston Awards. “Young reporters are producing strong work across a range of storytelling forms, increasing public understanding, accountability, empathy and action around important issues. Generous gifts like this not only provide recognition to individual journalists, they also affirm the larger mission of journalism in society. We are deeply grateful.”

Omenn, director of the university’s Center for Computational Medicine & Bioinformatics and the Proteomics Alliance for Cancer Research, served as executive vice president for medical affairs and as chief executive officer of the University of Michigan Health System from 1997 to 2002. He was dean of the School of Public Health, and professor of medicine and environmental health at the University of Washington, Seattle, from 1982 to 1997. He was also associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and the Office of Management and Budget in the Carter administration.

A noted conservationist, Darling is a member of the National Wildlife Federation’s President’s Leadership Council, which honored her contributions with its achievement award last year. Retired from a senior management position at Boeing, she has consulted on education policy for the National Academy of Sciences, and has chaired the boards of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research and the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation.  She is also a member of the White House Commission on Presidential Scholars.

Omenn was first introduced to Wallace House and the Knight-Wallace Fellowships by former director Charles Eisendrath, who retired in 2016. Over the years Omenn particularly enjoyed his occasional visits to Wallace House to hear from guest speakers, as well as the opportunity to meet with Fellows currently in residence. Last year, Wallace House director Lynette Clemetson launched The Livingston Lectures, public events featuring Livingston winners, an initiative Omenn singled out for praise. Giving students a chance to interact with the winners demonstrates the value of having the awards’ “home base” on campus, he added.

“This is in the sweet spot for the University of Michigan — we’re all about new knowledge and developing young people,” says Omenn.

Omenn and Darling maintain other connections to the journalism world. Omenn serves on the board of directors of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative news organization based in Washington, D.C. He noted that CPI’s first Pulitzer Prize, in 2014, went to a 28-year-old reporter examining the systemic disenfranchisement of Appalachian coal miners with black lung disease — two-time Livingston Award finalist Chris Hamby.

And Darling is a relative of Jay Norwood “Ding” Darling, who won two Pulitzer Prizes for political cartooning — in 1923 and 1942. He went on to become founder of the National Wildlife Federation and was appointed by President Franklin Roosevelt to head the U.S. Biological Survey, a forerunner to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.

Support for the Livingston Awards bolsters the work of reporters under the age of 35, creates the next generation of journalism leaders and advances civic engagement around powerful storytelling. Go to our donate page for more on how to support the essential work of journalists.