Terrence Donnelly

Terrence Donnelly
Place of Birth: 
London, Ontario
Department / Division: 

The Terrence Donnelly Health Sciences Complex is the namesake of a benefactor with a deep commitment to improving health care. Over the past two decades, philanthropist and volunteer Terrence Donnelly has made it his mission to support advancements in medical research, physician training and patient care. 

Originally from London, Ontario, Donnelly moved to Toronto in the 1950s to attend law school at Osgoode Hall. He graduated in 1960 and was called to the Bar of Ontario in 1962. As a young lawyer and founding partner at the law firm Donnelly & Daignault, Donnelly met Kentucky Fried Chicken founder Colonel Harland Sanders, helping the restaurant magnate to close a deal on a house in Mississauga. The two became lifelong friends—Donnelly served on the board of Directors of KFC as the chain expanded in Canada. Their business relationship extended to a lifelong friendship, but Donnelly says that Sanders also shaped his philosophy about philanthropy. According to Donnelly, Sanders was well known for his generosity and financial support of those in need. “He taught me that there comes a time when it’s important to leave a meaningful legacy,” Donnelly says. “He really was a perfect example for me.”

Upon retirement from his legal career in 1995, Donnelly began looking for a way to build that legacy and saw an opportunity to make a difference in the field of health care. “The greatest treasure any of us can possess is good health. Without that, nothing else is of any consequence,” says Donnelly, who adds that he has been lucky to enjoy good health throughout his life. “What better use can be made of one’s worldly assets than to help make a difference in the lives of those who, through no fault of their own, do not enjoy perfect health?”

As a volunteer and philanthropist, Donnelly gives generously of his time, expertise and resources to improve the health-care field in Canada in three key areas: clinical care, cutting-edge medical research and the education and training of physicians and other health care professionals. “We have to take care of today’s patient population, but we have to prevent disease, and conduct research to discover the causes of disease,” he says.

Along with outstanding generosity to other organizations, including St. Michael’s Hospital and the London Health Sciences Centre, Donnelly has given more than $25 million to the University of Toronto. In 2004, he gave $8 million to establish the Terrence Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research—home to more than 30 world-renowned researchers and 500 research staff members. In 2012, his gift of $12 million established the Terrence Donnelly Health Sciences Complex, matching a $10 million gift by Carlo Fidani and creating new bursaries for incoming students at the Mississauga Academy of Medicine at U of T Mississauga.

Donnelly is president of the Terrence Donnelly Foundation, and currently serves as president and director of the Colonel Harland Sanders Charitable Organization (Canada) where he oversees projects in children’s hospitals in Canada, the United States and Mexico. He visits his offices at St. Michael’s Hospital and the Cellular and Biomolecular Research daily, and attends every convocation celebration of the Mississauga Academy of Medicine.

“This is what motivates me to get out of bed every day. I can’t wait to read the reports, and meet the young residents,” Donnelly says. “When I go to graduation, that’s a payday for me. It’s very satisfying, to know how hard individuals have worked and the sacrifices they have made to get where they are, and to know that I have helped in my small way.”

Selected Awards:

  • Honourary Doctor of Law (LLD), 2005 from the University of Toronto in recognition of his commitment and support for research in healthcare and life sciences
  • Member of the Order of Canada, 2014 for his philanthropic contributions to health care and medical research
  • The Order of Ontario, 2001 in recognition of his interest and support for projects in healthcare in Ontario
  • Paul W. Fox Award, 2015, U of T Mississauga Alumni Award of Distinction

Major Philanthropic Activities: