George and Melissa Paz receive Lee Medal in recognition of their philanthropy
Former chairman and CEO of Express Scripts George Paz and his wife, Melissa, were honored as the 2021 recipients of the University of Missouri–St. Louis’ E. Desmond and Mary Ann Lee Medal for Philanthropy.
The award recognizes individuals and organizations whose incredible generosity has the potential to transform lives and communities. The Pazs received the honor Thursday evening during the university’s 30th annual Founders Celebration, sponsored by Express Scripts.
Typically, the annual dinner celebration is held in-person, but this year’s event was held virtually with a limited reception due to ongoing COVID-19 precautions. With Express Scripts’ support covering the cost of the evening, all money raised from the event will benefit the Rise Up Scholarship.
“George and Melissa are simply stellar examples of those who benefit from their UMSL education and go on and reinvest their valuable time and financial resources with the university,” Associate Vice Chancellor for University Advancement Sharon Fenoglio said in awarding the Lee Medal. “Currently serving as chair of UMSL’s Chancellor’s Council, George never doubts the value of his college education.”
Like countless other UMSL alumni, George Paz worked his way through school. He earned his BSBA from UMSL’s College of Business Administration in 1982. Melissa Paz earned a BS in accounting from Truman State University in 1992 and went on to graduate from the Washington University in St. Louis School of Law.
George Paz’s path wasn’t always easy, though. He dropped out of school for a few years before returning to finish his degree – a crucial step to his later professional success.
“Having a job without a degree did not offer a lot of opportunity,” Paz said. “I came back to UMSL – smartest thing I ever did in my life. UMSL provided me that educational base and the ability to turn my life around and make a significant difference in the St. Louis region and in this country. Thank you, UMSL.”
After graduating, Paz quickly climbed the corporate ladder. He held positions with Coopers and Lybrand, LLP, now PricewaterhouseCoopers, and served as CFO of Life Partners Group before joining Express Scripts in 1998 as CFO. In 2005, he took the helm of the Fortune 20 health care company as CEO and retired from that post in 2016.
Over the years, Paz has maintained a strong link to the university.
In 2007, he facilitated the relocation of Express Scripts’ corporate headquarters onto UMSL’s North Campus, and the company has been the primary benefactor for the Bridge Program’s Saturday Academy.
The program provides free college preparation services to high-school and middle-school students throughout the region. Express Scripts also supports internships, academic programs, diversity initiatives and community betterment projects that have continued after Paz’s tenure with the company ended in 2016.
In 2020, George and Melissa Paz donated $4 million to support scholarships for UMSL students to ensure continued opportunity in the St. Louis region. It represented the largest single philanthropic gift in the university’s history, and in total, their cumulative giving surpasses an astounding $5 million.
The couple was honored to receive the Lee Medal in recognition of these contributions and encouraged others to give back to the university.
“We all have a chance in our life to make a difference,” George Paz said. “We can do it through our work. We can do it through our actions, but very importantly, we can do it through our philanthropy. It is very important that to the extent that we’ve been successful and had an opportunity to make a difference, we should pay that forward. We should continue to help others get the same opportunities we got.”
The event was also an opportunity to celebrate UMSL as a university on the rise.
Chancellor Kristin Sobolik highlighted recent successes, noting that UMSL was once again regarded as a Tier 1 national university, moving up eight places to No. 118 among public universities in the 2022 U.S. News & World Report rankings. Sobolik added that UMSL rose an unprecedented 42 spots in the overall rankings in the past two years.
The university also continues to excel in helping students improve their socioeconomic status through college degrees. For the third year in a row, UMSL ranked highly on U.S. News’ list of “Top Performers on Social Mobility,” which highlights how well universities have graduated students who receive federal Pell Grants.
Additionally, Sobolik discussed the creation of the Rise Up Scholarship. She and her husband, Scott Peterson, associate professor of English, established the scholarship earlier this year to support students who fall just shy of qualifying for Pell Grants or merit-based aid.
“These are the students who are more often than not working multiple jobs to provide for themselves and, many times, family members – all while trying to balance the demands and investments required to reach their goals,” Sobolik said. “Scott and I wanted to help these students just like so many of you already have, and we are honored that the donations from tonight’s celebration will support this scholarship to benefit our UMSL students.”
She also announced the renaming of two university giving societies. The Pierre Laclede Society will now be known as the Goode Society in honor of Wayne and Jane Goode and their role in establishing UMSL, and the Auguste Chouteau Society will be known as the Chancellor’s Circle. Fenoglio recognized new and advancing members of the newly renamed gift societies, as well as the 1963 Society.
“As we celebrate our outstanding alumni and fantastic supporters tonight, remember that UMSL is an institution of opportunity, one that provides a world-class education while giving students the tools and supports they need to succeed in their educational, career and life paths,” Sobolik said. “The education students receive here is foundational as they go out to create lasting change in the world.”
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