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University of Missouri

Exercising His Passion

Frank Booth races toward answers about exercise’s benefits with million-dollar gift.

Neil Olson, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, left, and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, right, present Professor Frank Booth with a framed veterinary medicine collage in honor of his $1 million donation to the university.

Neil Olson, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine, middle, and Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin, right, present Professor Frank Booth with a framed veterinary medicine collage in honor of his $1 million donation to the university.

As a child, Frank Booth watched his grandmother slowly lose her ability to be active. In her 80s, she struggled to do the dishes. In her 90s, it was hard for her to walk. Aging, Booth knows now, had progressively downgraded her body’s engine, its capacity for using oxygen to support activity, until what had been a jet engine became a low-powered motorbike engine. And when she was 99, the motorbike gave out.

“I want to know why,” said the professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine.

Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin announced Nov. 20 Booth’s gift of $1 million to the veterinary medicine college and the School of Medicine to fund graduate student fellowships and Booth’s own research, which focuses on answering that and other public health questions.

Booth, an expert in the biochemistry of exercise, does more than talk the talk. “He runs the run,” Olson says, as he can often be seen running to work, to appointments or to errands.

Booth, an expert in the biochemistry of exercise, does more than talk the talk. “He runs the run,” Olson says, as he can often be seen running to work, to appointments or to errands.

Standing in front of a Memorial Union crowd in a gray suit, tie and running shoes, Booth, 71, explained how his dad took him to a stockbroker when he was in high school and taught him how to save and invest, how reading President-elect John F. Kennedy’s fitness article in Sports Illustrated in 1960 inspired him to value physical activity, and how the words spoken at Robert F. Kennedy’s funeral in 1968 about imagining the way things could be inspires his advocacy for changing the way Americans behave.

Booth remembers what happened to his grandmother, sees it today when he visits his mother in the nursing home and worries it will happen even sooner to today’s youth if they ignore the warnings to maintain an active lifestyle.

“Being a couch potato in youth means you’re trading in your engine earlier in life,” he said during his remarks. “We want to keep them out of the nursing home and that wheelchair longer.”

Booth is a world expert on the biochemistry of exercise and genetics of exercise motivation with joint appointments in the School of Medicine, College of Human Environmental Sciences and the Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center. He wants to use his donation to continue researching why our motivation to be active wanes as we get older and how exercise delays the “engine downgrading” of aging.

A Jefferson Club, Legacy Society, Columns Society and John W. Connaway Society member, he has already paid $750,000 of the $825,000 that will go toward funding his research. The remaining $200,000 is an estate pledge that will establish the Frank Booth Fellowship in Physical Activity and Health in the MU School of Medicine for second- and third-year graduate students studying physical health and exercise.