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IMPULSES | Widow’s $1-billion mite

By Herman M. Lagon

The remarkable $1 billion donation of widow Ruth Gottesman to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine stands out as a testament to the lasting power of pure charity in a world full of “quid pro quo” deals. This unprecedented deed, which aims to guarantee free tuition for all students moving forward, not only exemplifies the value of selfless giving but also acts as a contemporary counterpart to the biblical story of the widow’s mite, reminding us of the significant influence our contributions, no matter how small, can have.

Gottesman’s choice to use her wealth for the benefit of others is an example of generosity motivated by grace and appreciation. These traits are aptly reflected in the responses of the Bronx school’s medical students to the news. The students’ responses of utter joy, tears, and bewilderment highlight the transforming quality of her gift, which is expected to have a long-lasting positive impact on the medical profession by spreading compassion and understanding to future generations.

Drawing from my experience, many people, like myself, have experienced the difficulty of overcoming financial obstacles in pursuing education. I have direct experience with the doors that academic scholarships can open, having been a beneficiary and the parent of two girls who enjoyed the same in college. This is similar to how my youngest daughter, now a senior in medical school, benefits from a DOH scholarship, which lessens the financial burden of her education. Using a DOST consortium grant, six other academics at my college and I completed our PhDs. The fact that I and many others have a personal connection to the world of scholarships and the significant impact they can have has only made us appreciate generosity like Gottesman’s even more.

Gottesman’s donation serves as a potent reminder of the influence that unadulterated altruism may have. It is not only about easing the financial burden on students but also about giving aspiring physicians the opportunity to begin their careers debt-free, allowing them to make decisions based more on their passions than on need. This contribution not only improves lives but also has the power to reshape the healthcare industry by increasing diversity in the medical workforce and increasing accessibility for poor but gifted people from all backgrounds.

In 1950, Ruth wed David Gottesman. Before she started her studies at Mount Holyoke College, they met in 1948. They were married for 72 years until he died in 2022. This story of generosity gains a human dimension from the background of her philanthropy following the receipt of her inheritance, characterized by a close connection and mutual dedication to helping the Bronx community with Dr. Philip Ozuah. It is a tale of respect for one another and a common goal for the future, supported by a strong sense of trust and a deep comprehension of the needs of the communities they both represented.

The principles from the “Widow’s Offering,” which state that the true value of a gift is determined by the sacrifice it represents rather than its size, are firmly aligned with this story. Despite its small size, the widow’s mite represented her entire way of life, reinforcing the idea that the true value of a gift is found in the intention behind it and the wholehearted dedication of the donor.

As Gottesman has shown, generosity is an expression of a larger philosophy that is summed up in the Jesuit Prayer for Generosity. This prayer, sometimes credited to St. Ignatius of Loyola, encapsulates the heart of giving genuinely and freely by urging selflessness and a commitment to helping without expecting compensation.

The difficulty in our lives is to live with this generosity in whatever we do. Making a difference in the lives of others is always possible, whether through monetary gifts, volunteer work, or small acts of kindness. It involves choosing to make a difference in the world in a way that is consistent with our moral principles and dedication to the common good.

We are reminded of the ability of small acts of kindness to spur more significant social change as we consider the enormous gift given to the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. Gottesman’s legacy is the teaching that genuine kindness has no boundaries, no desire for compensation, and the financial stability she has given innumerable medical students.

Stories like Gottesman’s provide optimism in a world where self-interest and skepticism are commonplace. They remind us of the significant positive effects of unselfish generosity on society. It pushes us to think beyond the problems at hand and explore how we, too, can make the world a more giving, compassionate, and inclusive place.

Let us have the spirit of the Prayer for Generosity close at hand while we consider our next course of action. It is a timeless reminder of the principles that should direct our behavior.

“Dear Lord, teach me to be generous; teach me to serve you as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek for rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, save that of knowing that I do your will.”

Accepting this call to selflessness helps us discover the real meaning of generosity, which goes beyond financial gain and promotes a giving culture that benefits everyone.


Doc H fondly describes himself as a ‘student of and for life’ who, like many others, aspires to a life-giving and why-driven world that is grounded in social justice and the pursuit of happiness. His views herewith do not necessarily reflect those of the institutions he is employed or connected with.


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