Edmund T. Pratt Jr. B.S.E.E. ’47, philanthropist, Duke trustee emeritus, and retired chairman and chief executive officer for Pfizer Inc., is the recipient of the Distinguished Alumni Award, the highest honor presented to alumni. Distinguished Alumni Award winners are recognized at Founders’ Day in early October. Established in 1983 by the Duke Alumni Association, the award recognizes Duke graduates who have made significant contributions in their own fields, in service to the university, or for the betterment of humanity.
His gift of $35 million in 1999 to endow the engineering school—now the Edmund T. Pratt Jr. School of Engineering—is the second-largest in the history of the university, surpassed only by the original gift of James B. Duke that transformed Trinity College into the university that bears his family’s name. “How wonderfully appropriate that on the very weekend the university celebrates the seventy-fifth anniversary of James B. Duke’s extraordinary philanthropy, Ed Pratt has made a gift that promises to catapult the Edmund T. Pratt Jr. School of Engineering into the ranks of the leading centers of engineering education and research,” said President Nannerl O. Keohane in announcing the gift, following action by Duke’s board of trustees renaming the school. “We are deeply grateful for his vision.”
Pratt came to Duke in 1944 for Navy officer training under the V-12 program, where he began an accelerated, year-round study. He chose electrical engineering as his major when the war ended during his second year at Duke. He completed his third and final year through the G.I. Bill, graduating magna cum laude. He then entered the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, where he earned his M.B.A. in 1949
He joined IBM in 1952 as a salesman and, within a decade, worked his way to assistant to the executive vice president and then controller, IBM World Trade Corporation, despite a two-year interruption serving in the Navy during the Korean War. From 1962 to 1964, he was in President Kennedy’s administration as assistant secretary of the Army for financial management, with top civilian responsibility for Army budgeting and planning, including data processing.
In 1964, he began working for the pharmaceutical company Pfizer Inc., as corporate controller. By 1992, when he retired, he had progressed from vice president of operations of international subsidiaries to president of international subsidiaries to chairman and CEO. Under his leadership, Pfizer sales grew from $1 billion to $7 billion and operations expanded into 140 countries.
Pratt was named a Duke trustee in 1977 and served for a dozen years. He has also served on the board of the Fuqua School of Business, the Engineering Development Committee, the Capital Gifts Committee, and the Leadership Gift Committee. After he retired from Pfizer, the company established in his honor the Pfizer Inc.-Edmund T. Pratt Jr. University Professorship. In 1997, Duke named the Pratt Commons of the Levine Science Research Center in his honor, following his $1 million gift to the center.
Beyond Duke, Pratt has held leadership positions in the United Way, the Boys Clubs of America, the Hugh O’Brien Youth Foundation, and the Girl Scouts. In 1998, he donated $12 million to Long Island University to fund new academic, computer, and library facilities, increased recreational space, and other improvements.
Among his other honors, he received Religion in America’s Charles E. Wilson role-model award and the Boys Clubs of America’s Herbert Hoover Humanitarian Award.Pratt and his wife, Nancy, live in New York State, and he has two sons, Keith and Randolf.