A Surprise and Welcome Gift

An unexpected bequest stands to transform the Division of Endocrinology

Harleigh Knott was a woman of great spirit and a fervent supporter of Stanford throughout her life—not only as an undergraduate, an alumna, and an employee, but also as a philanthropist.

Harleigh Knott

Never married, Harleigh (BA ’50) lived for adventure. Her career goals were modest; her jobs—of which there were many throughout her life—were a means to an end, primarily serving to fund her extensive worldwide travel. Well known throughout her hometown of Morro Bay for her trademark fashionable hats, which she sported while traversing the local streets on foot, and with a wide range of interests from opera to the Indy 500, Harleigh was, as friends have described her: thoughtful, eclectic, and humorous. She was also a master of the unexpected, as the generous and unforeseen gift she left to Stanford Medicine illustrates.

A Pleasant Surprise

Harleigh died in March 2019 at the age of 90. Unbeknownst to her family and friends, she left nearly the entirety of her estate—in this case, proceeds from the sale of her ocean-view Morro Bay home—to Stanford Medicine. “I knew Harleigh was an alumna and a booster for Stanford,” says Mary Beth Hebert, a cousin of Harleigh’s and executor of her estate. “Over the years she would send me newspaper clippings and other news from Stanford that she found interesting. I hadn’t known that she’d named Stanford Medicine in her will, yet I wasn’t at all surprised, because she was intensely proud of Stanford and stayed very connected to it.”

“Where this gift will make a huge difference is in allowing us to attract and recruit the most talented fellows and then giving them the support they need to pursue the research interests that are near and dear to them.” — Joy Wu, MD


Harleigh earned a bachelor's degree in history from Stanford in 1950.

While Harleigh was an earnest champion of her alma mater, it was Stanford Medicine specifically that she chose to leave her estate to, perhaps because of a personal interest in medical research and patient care. Named after Harleigh’s younger sister, Nona, who died of an endocrinological disease at the age of 30, and her mother, Rachel, who also was a Stanford alumna, the gift will support the Division of Endocrinology. It is divided equally between The Nona Reynolds Knott and Rachel Thayer Knott Endocrinology Research Fund and The Nona Reynolds Knott and Rachel Thayer Knott Diabetes Research Fund.

Joy Wu, MD, an associate professor of medicine–endocrinology and chief of the Division of Endocrinology, says she has never known of such an unanticipated—and very welcome—gift being bestowed here. “I’ve been at Stanford since 2012, and I don’t think I’ve heard of anything similar,” she says. “I am incredibly excited and grateful for this to come to the division.”

Helping to Drive the Science Forward

Since Harleigh’s bequest is directed entirely to the Division of Endocrinology, Dr. Wu, who is also vice chair of basic science in the Department of Medicine, has full authority to decide how the funds will be used. In consultation with her colleagues, she has determined the greatest need lies in the recruitment and training of fellows who will conduct the research that is so vital to advancing the science of endocrinology.

“Where this gift will make a huge difference is in allowing us to attract and recruit the most talented fellows and then giving them the support they need to pursue the research interests that are near and dear to them,” Dr. Wu says. While approximately half of her current faculty focus on diabetes in their research—a vital pursuit in its own right—Dr. Wu anticipates that some of the new fellows will focus on additional endocrine-related disorders that are equally important for the health of the population.

She adds that while fellows in the clinical track are funded through Stanford Hospital, those in the research track rely on funding from a variety of outside sources, including faculty grants and philanthropy. “That’s why gifts like these are so vital to the work we do here at Stanford,” Dr. Wu says.

A Growing Need in an Important Field

While relatively low numbers of endocrinologists are being trained nationwide compared with other specialties, the need for them is growing. And so is their demand—making recruitment even more vital. “Given the rapidly rising rates of diabetes, obesity, and other endocrine-related disorders, we have a great need for physician investigators in this area,” Dr. Wu says. “At the same time, it’s difficult to recruit faculty who are both endocrinologists and researchers, in part because their numbers are so few.”

Harleigh outside Roble Hall.

And the goal, of course, is that once Dr. Wu and her team are able to recruit and train a cadre of new fellows, they will be able to grow the faculty from within. “Our hope is to train outstanding fellows and then have them choose a career path in research, ideally staying at Stanford or perhaps continuing this important work elsewhere,” she says.

Dr. Wu adds that endocrinology is a field of vital importance, one in which many basic science discoveries have been made—such as the role that hormones play in our health—as well as more recent ones with the potential to dramatically improve public health. “Research in endocrinology has led to new medications that are going to completely transform how we manage obesity, which in turn will create downstream effects on the management of diabetes and other metabolic diseases,” she explains. “This is a great example of something that came about because people have spent decades doing basic science research in the labs.”

A Word of Thanks

Dr. Wu says it’s nearly impossible to convey the appreciation she has for Harleigh’s bequest—not only because of the benefit it will bring to her division, but to the field of endocrinology as a whole. “I’m so incredibly grateful for this gift,” she says. “To recognize the importance of endocrinology to the health of the general public, and to allow us to support the training and research in these critical areas that affect so many people—Harleigh’s gift is truly transformative, and we’re so excited about the possibilities it brings.”

For her part, Mary Beth is thankful that Stanford Medicine is committed to executing Harleigh’s estate gift just as she intended. “I am thrilled that her wishes are going to be honored,” she says. 

If you would like to support the Division of Endocrinology, please contact Katie Robinson, senior associate director of major gifts, at katie.r.robinson@stanford.edu.

To learn more about making an estate gift or other bequest to Stanford Medicine, please contact Wendy Chou, director of planned giving at Stanford Medical Center Development, at wchou@stanford.edu.