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Ruth Gottesman $1 billion donation to medical school Image via
Ruth Gottesman

A Lesson in Understated Generosity

Ruth Gottesman's landmark donation receives praise for her no frills approach to giving.

Ruth Gottesman, the widow of billionaire financier David Gottesman, has donated $1 billion to Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y., instructing that the money be used to cover tuition for all students in perpetuity. The gift is the largest ever to a U.S. medical school and the third largest ever to higher education (Michael Bloomberg’s donation to John Hopkins University tops the list).

Gottesman was a longtime professor of pediatrics at the school and is the current chair of the school’s board of trustees. Her fortune stems from her late husband, who was an early investor in Berkshire Hathaway and a longtime friend of Warren Buffet. According to Ruth, David’s instructions for her inheritance of the Berkshire Hathaway stocks was to “Do whatever you think is right with it.”

Forbes reports that 2023 was a year of record-breaking donations to colleges and universities, with over a dozen higher education institutions receiving contributions of $100 million or more, several even receiving their largest gift ever, for some $58 billion in charitable giving.

Not a Vanity Project

At a time when the sentiment among donors is that giving is more of an investment, the New York Times praises Gottesman for her humility and the refreshing “absence of any apparent vanity” surrounding the gift, reporting that Gottesman doesn’t want the school renamed after her (in fact, the gift is conditioned on the opposite, that the school doesn’t change its name). The publication notably distinguishes Gottesman’s gift to the Bronx College (the Bronx is New York City’s poorest borough) from some other recent significant donations that tend to fund facilities and institutions in wealthy neighborhoods, citing Julia Koch’s recent $75 million donation to a medical center in West Palm Beach, Fla., which serves what The Chronicle of Philanthropy describes as “one of Florida’s fastest-growing wealthy enclaves,” as an example (Koch is one of the richest women in the world). Gottesman originally wanted the donation anonymous until Philip Ozuah, who oversees the college, pointed out that it could inspire others.

Gottesman hopes to allow students who might not be able to afford medical school to pursue their dreams and to lower the burden of student loan debt on those who graduate (the annual tuition at the college is approximately $59,000).

A New Trend in Giving?

Quiet luxury, the most significant trend in fashion, is characterized by understated elegance, moving away from overt displays of wealth via labels or logos and the like. It’s interesting to see if Gottesman’s donation inspires a similar trend of understated generosity in philanthropy.

“It is wonderful to witness such generosity. Wealthy clients today are considering larger and larger gifts to charity, and in practice, I see these gifts as being most impactful when contributed during the donor’s lifetime so that they can comment. It helps stir the trend,” said Cynthia D. Brittain, partner at Karlin & Peebles, LLP in Los Angeles.

“We expect to see more large gifts to trust and large gifts to charities in the coming year,” she added. 

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