Remembering Oliver “Ollie” Waddell: Leader, Humanitarian and Friend

People pose for a photo

Photo of Virgilee and Oliver Waddell by Melvin Grier / Cincinnati Post.

The UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute’s clinicians, staff and supporters will remember Oliver Waddell as a devoted family man, successful business executive, and humanitarian whose generosity and empathy for others made the Waddell Center for Multiple Sclerosis possible.

Mr. Waddell, who retired early as CEO of Star Bank to become the primary caregiver for his beloved wife, Virgilee, died at home on Oct. 24, surrounded by his children. Virgilee Waddell preceded him in death in October 2009.

The Waddell Center was founded in 2002 with a $5 million gift from Mr. Waddell, who wanted to honor the courage and determination of Virgilee, who was diagnosed with MS in 1981 and who gradually lost her ability to walk. Mr. Waddell also wanted to provide for the thousands of other residents of Greater Cincinnati who suffered from this incurable neurological disease. He and Virgilee were both concerned that many patients with MS traveled out of town for optimal care and the opportunity to participate in clinical trials that tested promising new treatments. The Waddells wanted those opportunities to be available here, for people in the Cincinnati region, and especially for those who did not have the means to travel.

“Mr. and Mrs. Waddell were opposed to having their name associated with the Center because they did not want to draw attention to themselves personally,” reflected John M. Tew, MD, Clinical Director of the UC Gardner Neuroscience Institute. “However, they were convinced  that their name would facilitate the support of others and help to establish a more effective center for the care of all people of our region.”

“Our father epitomized the best of Cincinnati, giving of himself to help countless others through his community service, business and philanthropic endeavors; most notably, creating a legacy in our Mother’s honor by establishing the Waddell Center for Multiple Sclerosis,” the Waddell family said in a prepared statement. “Although his business accomplishments are well documented, we will remember him first and foremost as a loving, dedicated husband who walked away at the peak of his career to care for our mother following her diagnosis. He displayed the same loving care, compassion and dedication to her as he had shown us throughout our lives. Humble and private, he preferred to lead by example, instilling in us his values of hard work, integrity, compassion, dedication and service to others.  He lived a full life and we take comfort that he is now reunited with his beloved Virgilee, receiving the deserved heavenly praise ‘well done my good and faithful servant.’ The family is grateful for the outpouring of prayers, thoughts and expressions of condolence.”

“Ollie Waddell is a role model for how to live one’s life,” said Joseph Broderick, MD, Research Director of UCNI. “His commitment to helping others in the community and his family was more important to him than any specific job or title, although he was a man of great accomplishments in business. He was also a man deeply in love with his wife through good and tough times.”

“He was a great role model and a giving soul,” added Maria Melanson, MD, Director of the Waddell Center. “I cannot think of a better person to have our center named after.”

 “The biggest reward is how close we’ve become. I don’t look at it as a chore. She needs help. She would do the same for me.” –Oliver Waddell *

Mr. Waddell, a graduate of Duke University, University of Kentucky College of Law and Stonier Graduate School of Banking, joined First National Bank of Cincinnati in 1957. His name would eventually become synonymous with First National and later Star Banc Corporation, now US Bank. Mr. Waddell was elected President and Chief Executive Officer in January 1980 and later served as Chairman and CEO of Star Banc Corporation.

 “We have been very fortunate. I’ve always said this. We have met people who hate their jobs. The percentage of people working who hate their jobs is beyond my comprehension. And I never felt that way a day I worked in the bank. I really enjoyed it. I never played politics, and the moves up just came.” –Oliver Waddell

In May 1993 Mr. Waddell stepped down three years shy of his mandatory retirement to answer a new calling.

“I tried to get her to accept outside help, but she just refused to have anybody in the house. She’s pretty independent in that respect. There was gradual deterioration as time went on. I became quite concerned about it. I’d sit down at the bank and then worry about her being by herself. So I decided to take early retirement and stay home with her, which I did.” –Oliver Waddell

“One of my favorite memories is of Ollie and Virgilee making the trip to Miami University to be with Team Waddell during the National MS Society’s annual bike ride,” said Dr. Tew. “They visited with the Team Waddell cyclists, stayed overnight, and had breakfast with us. It was a significant effort on their part, and it was typical of the Waddells’ grace in saying ‘thank you.’ Susan and I loved Ollie Waddell, and we will miss him greatly.”

“We had a boxer names Blitz. I’d take him for a walk. He had a choker collar. When we took him for a walk, he’d go like crazy. I was tall and skinny. And I probably looked crazy running down the street trying to hold onto him. She [Virgilee] drove by in her father’s car and she was laughing at me. When I got home I said to my mother, ‘That Casey girl was laughing at me walking the dog. For two cents I said I’d call her up and tell her what I think of her.’ My mother said, ‘Why don’t you?’ So I took the challenge and I called her . . . Sexiest-sounding voice on the phone I’d ever heard. And I asked her for a date.” –Oliver Waddell

“There were lots of qualities to admire and enjoy! in Oliver Waddell,” said Susan Tew, who also rode with Team Waddell. “I think his most enjoyable and most reliable gift was the genuine and enthusiastic welcome he gave each of his friends at any occasion. Whether it was a large party or small home visit, he always stood up, flashed a broad smile with dancing eyes, and had a warm bear hug! His most noble gift was certainly his early retirement from leadership of the bank in order to take care of Virgilee.”

“I’m lucky. There are so many divorces in situations where the spouse cannot handle the incapacity of the person with MS, and Ollie never made me feel that way. He was always willing to help.” –Virgilee Waddell

“I remember being very nervous to meet Mr. Waddell for the first time, with his being such an important donor … and the Waddell Center itself being named after him!” said Kimberly DiPilla, the Waddell Center’s program coordinator. “But that quickly faded when I was introduced to him. He had a very kind personality that put me at ease, and I could tell instantly that I would really like him! He always maintained that sweet kindness for as long as I knew him. He will be missed.”

“I hope the MS Center will have competence; I hope it will be comprehensive so that so many people don’t have to go all over seeking help; and I hope it will have compassion for the MS patient. Three C’s for the center: competence, comprehensiveness, compassion.” –Virgilee Waddell

“How selfless and generous Ollie Waddell was,” said Gina Weitzel, Senior Director of Development at the UC Academic Health Center. “Not only did he not want his wife to travel outside of Cincinnati for treatment, he (and Virgilee) did not want others to have to travel outside of Cincinnati to seek ‘competent, comprehensive and compassionate treatment.’  He was a true example of Paying it Forward. He showed that one person, one family, can make a difference.”

“I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. and Mrs. Waddell in 2004,” said Cindy Starr, a member of UCNI’s communications staff. “I was struck above all by Mr. Waddell’s genuine humility and thoughtfulness, qualities one might not have expected in such a supremely successful man. I never forgot his story about his office at the bank. “They always gave the retiring CEO an office for life,” Mr. Waddell said. “And I said that wasn’t fair to the shareholders and I wouldn’t take it for life. I said, ‘I’ll take it for three years and round up everything I’m associated with, other boards and what have you. And they said, ‘No, take it for five years.’ I agreed to that, but I wouldn’t take it for life. It isn’t fair. I’m not working. I’m just down there reading magazines.”

Oliver: “I resigned from all my boards so I wouldn’t be called out to attend board meetings. It’s been fun to spend this much time with her. I think we’re closer now than we’ve been in our entire lives.” Virgilee: “That’s because you don’t have the bank as your mistress.” Oliver (smiling): “I have a new mistress now.” Virgilee (smiling): “He’s come back to me now.”


* Quotations in italics taken from the transcript of an interview with Virgilee and Oliver Waddell, at their home, March 16, 2004

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