Last month, I received an email from the UMHS Office of Development that said: I am delighted to inform you of a gift agreement we recently received [from Dr. Eva Schaff-Blass and her husband Josef] to establish the Ora H. Pescovitz Honorary Scholarship Fund in your honor. This scholarship will be awarded to an M4 student this year.
To say I was surprised is an understatement! I was incredibly moved, honored and humbled by this act of generosity.
I first met fellow endocrinologist Dr. Eva Schaff-Blass in 2000, when I delivered Pediatric Grand Rounds and the Endocrine Visiting Lecture at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She was an associate professor of Pediatrics there at the time. Our paths crossed again in 2005 when Eva became a professor of Clinical Pediatrics and associate director of General Pediatrics at Indiana University School of Medicine. This was soon after I had become president and CEO of Riley Hospital for Children, where Eva performed her clinical duties. At that time, I also was a professor of Pediatrics and served as executive associate dean for Research Affairs at IU, so it was only natural that we would have some professional interactions. During one such encounter, Eva referenced the positive impact that my lecture in 2000 had on her and her colleagues, and she told me that she learned a lot from my leadership style. I was flattered and proud. Two years later, Eva went back to North Carolina to serve as medical director of Blue Cross/Blue Shield of NC, and two years after that I took my position here at Michigan.
What I didn’t fully register until I received that email last month was that Eva has maize and blue in her blood! She attended U-M medical school and completed her residency here in the Department of Pediatrics. Later, she returned to U-M to earn a Masters of Public Health. Additionally, her son is a U-M graduate, her husband received his Ph.D. in mathematics from the University, and her father, Adam Schaff, a philosophy professor at the Warsaw University, received an honorary degree from the University of Michigan in 1967. To make this scholarship gift at a time when I am maize and blue myself is truly fantastic, and it pays homage to our proud U-M tradition.
Philanthropic giving is vital to our institution and to the future of medicine, especially at a time of shrinking federal funding. But, philanthropy is much more than just a money channel.
Philanthropy is a way to create personal and meaningful transformations for donors and for the faculty, students, staff and institutions that benefit from their generosity. It is a way that individuals and families who have been touched by UMHS can give back and create a powerful and long-lasting connection to the work that we do. It connects the present to the future.
I have heard generosity called a “gate” — a doorway through which we enter into deeper relationships with those to whom we have given or from whom we have received. I would add that it’s also a portal that connects us to a larger community seeking to make the world a better place.
Beginning today and regularly on Medicine That Speaks, I will highlight stories that demonstrate the critical role philanthropy plays in our mission. To start, I want to share a video that is a beautiful example of the impact our donors – many of whom are patients – make on our work. It features Dr. Lawrence Marentette, director of U-M’s Cranial Base program, talking about the selfless gift given by Matthew Vogel, a young patient with an untreatable rare tumor.
After watching the video, Matthew’s parents had this to say: “We think this is a beautiful tribute to Matthew and it certainly expresses Matthew’s one wish – to do whatever he could to defeat this awful disease, if not for himself, for others.… We can only hope that it will inspire others to support the ongoing research that has already made a difference in people’s lives.”
Like Matthew and his family, the hundreds of generous donors who support our work are true partners. We are creating the future of health care together – through discovery, and through philanthropy. If you have a story to share, please email Amy Bunch, senior director of Development Strategic Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.