University of Arizona Tree Ring Lab

The sequoia slice is at UA’s Bryant Bannister Tree-Ring Building, on North Santa Rita Avenue, north of East Sixth Street.

Kelly Presnell / Arizona Daily Star 2013

The University of Arizona has received $50 million from the estate of philanthropist Agnese Nelms Haury.

It will be used to fund scholarships and research on issues of the environment, social justice and the Southwest.

It will also establish an annual prize for what Dean of Science Joaquin Ruiz hopes will become the environmental equivalent of a Kavli Science Award or Nobel Prize.

“We want to create a prize for environmental research that will be understood to be the biggest prize for that field,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said the award won’t approach the $1 million given by those two major awards but he hopes to find additional sponsors to boost it into the “quarter-million range.” It will be called the “Haury Biosphere 2 Prize.”

Haury’s bequest will also fund a scholarship for a Native-American or Canadian First Nations student at Oxford University, a scholarship she called “a mini-Rhodes,” said Diana Liverman, co-director of the UA Institute of the Environment.

Oxford has agreed to pay half the cost of that scholarship, Liverman said.

The Institute of the Environment will also oversee:

  • Selection of six chairs in environment and social justice — five-year appointments for outstanding UA faculty doing research in environmental and social sciences.
  • A faculty fellows program for up to six mid-career UA faculty members.
  • A visiting fellows program that will bring researchers in the environment of the Southwest to the UA.
  • The Carson-Haury Scholars Program for graduate fellowships in environmental topics. Liverman said this will enable the institute to increase the level of support for each graduate student and “double or triple” the number of graduate students in an existing program, named for environmental pioneer Rachel Carson.

The gift also establishes funds for research support, undergraduate engagement and conferences at Biosphere 2.

The Haury Program in Southwest Studies will fund lectures, events, outreach programs and publications on the theme of social justice in the Southwest.

Haury, who died in March, is the widow of Emil Haury, one of the pre-eminent archaeologists of the Southwest, who founded the UA School of Anthropology and was director of the Arizona State Museum.

The museum’s current director, Patrick Lyons, said Agnese Haury was “an incredibly warm and down-to-earth person who was incredibly generous to the Arizona State Museum.”

Haury donated $1 million to the museum’s ceramics vault, which is named for her and Emil Haury.

Lyons benefited personally from her philanthropy. He came to graduate school at the UA as the second Haury Fellow, a scholarship for graduate students.

“She told great stories and she opened up her home to me and other students. She was the kind of person who wanted to see with her own eyes what kind of impact she had.”

Haury was born to a wealthy Houston family and practiced philanthropy all her life, in addition to working for international foundations and agencies in the realm of social justice.

“She came from an extremely wealthy family and as she grew older, she pulled more and more away from that,” said David Yetman, of the UA’s Southwest Center.

Yetman said she “immersed herself in creating the kind of world she would like to see.” She traveled to 60 countries and was “a dedicated internationalist in the best sense of that word.”

Yetman traveled twice to the Andes with Haury, who had an intense interest in the native people of the region.

When KUAT-TV decided to drop Yetman’s “Desert Speaks” program, Haury underwrote a more wide-ranging series called “In the Americas.”

Haury also donated $9 million to build a new home for the UA’s Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research — which had been co-founded by her late husband.

Contact reporter Tom Beal at tbeal@tucson.com or 573-4158.