Decades-long dedication to UMMS inspires giving
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Decades-long dedication to UMMS inspires giving

Alumni and friends unite to endow a scholarship honoring longtime Alumni Association president Irv Heifetz

No one who ever worked with Irv Heifetz, MD’79 R’82, would diagnose him as being “at a loss for words.” And yet, that was undeniably his condition—albeit briefly—on May 6, 2017, at the annual meeting of the UMass Medical School Alumni Association. The condition was brought on by the announcement that an endowed scholarship had been established in his honor.

“I was expecting a few kind words and perhaps a framed certificate,” said Dr. Heifetz. “But when they said it was a scholarship I was moved to tears.”

The occasion was also marked by his final turn at the podium as president of the Alumni Association, a position he held since 1993. Throughout his 24-year tenure, during which the size of the alumni body increased substantially, he presided over many alumni meetings and events, including the annual scholarship dinner (a favorite).

Always a thoughtful and attentive host, he made sure to connect with as many alumni and donors as possible at these gatherings.

“Irv went around to every table and related stories about the alumni and donors at each table,” said Erica Johnson, MD’75, Dr. Heifetz’s friend and Alumni Association colleague. “He understood that, while people appreciate being appreciated, it really meant something that he remembered them. And Irv remembers them all.”

When it came time to thank Dr. Heifetz for his nearly quarter century of commitment to UMMS, Dr. Johnson and the rest of the Alumni Association board had a challenge.

“We couldn’t imagine what would be an appropriate gift to recognize Irv for all that he had done for the school,” said Dr. Johnson. “It finally struck me when I went with him to the annual Scholarship Dinner last fall.

“I was watching him go from table to table, just as he had always done. Again, he knew so many alumni and their families, and also donors who had provided support for financial aid, and he had stories—lots of stories. It was then that I realized a scholarship in his name, permanently endowed, would truly recognize him for all that he has done here.”

The entire Alumni Association board’s response was immediate, enthusiastic and unanimous.

“We couldn’t imagine anything in the world that Irv would find more meaningful than our collective support of UMass Medical School students,” Dr. Johnson said. Next up was to rally other alumni to support the effort.

The University requires a minimum of $25,000 to establish an endowed fund for a scholarship.

“We had no idea whether or not we could do that,” Dr. Johnson said. “The alumni from the early years made up a small group of prospective supporters and, while there are more alumni from later years, many of them are still building their careers and raising kids.”

Working closely with the Office of Advancement, Dr. Johnson also consulted with Andrew Miller, MD’79 R’83, who had stepped down as vice-president of the Alumni Association in 2015 after 23 years of service. Subsequently, her concerns were put to rest.

Many alumni from a range of class years contributed to the fund—with very generous support from the Alumni Association board—as did friends and former colleagues. As of September 2017, the fund balance exceeded $28,000 in contributions.

“This has been a wonderful show of support for both Irv and the UMass Medical School students he loves so much,” said Kent Lewandrowski, MD’86 P’20, the Alumni Association’s new president. “It was a great team effort, and is a fitting tribute to someone as dedicated as Irv.”

“The alumni who serve on the Alumni Association board have a deep and durable emotional connection with the Medical School,” said Dr. Heifetz. “It has been a great privilege to work with them, and I look forward to continuing to do so as past president. Erica and the board, especially its excellent new officers, could not have chosen a more resonant and meaningful honor than this scholarship. I am deeply grateful to them, to all the donors and to our wonderful medical school.”

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