My parents taught me that giving was important,” says Jim Poitras, who along with his wife, Pat, recently established at MIT the James W. and Patricia T. Poitras Professorship Fund, MIT’s first chair in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences.

Their hope is that research into the origins of major mental illness will eventually lead to new treatments and deeper understanding. “Mental illness is a scourge,” Pat says, “and diseases like schizophrenia, depression, and bipolar disorder probably disrupt the lives of more people than any other major illnesses in the world. If there’s no concentrated effort to tackle these problems, nothing will happen.”

In 1980, the couple’s own daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, which led them to focus their philanthropy in this area. Pat says: “The research we have supported over the years may or may not help our daughter directly, but this is the kind of research that will help people for generations to come.”

Jim earned an MIT degree in electrical engineering in 1963. Then he conducted research at Mass. General Hospital, where he later worked in computer programming, then in administration. In 1979, he joined the family business, Highland Laboratories, a manufacturing company where he was president and CEO for 22 years. He also ran and continues to run the family’s real estate investments.

Jim’s Dad, Edward J. Poitras ’28, was a great philanthropist, who encouraged his son to also be generous. He believed that it was a great gift to give back.

“We’ve been fortunate and blessed in our lives,” Jim says. “We get enjoyment from giving. And it’s the right thing to do.”