Who Is Ruth Gottesman, the Donor Behind an Unprecedented $1B Gift to Albert Einstein College of Medicine?

A former professor at the Bronx institution, Gottesman wants to ensure that its educational offerings are available to all.

Woman sitting at table in crowded room
Ruth Gottesman pictured in May of 2016. Getty Images

A private medical school in the Bronx will offer free tuition in perpetuity, something made possible by a groundbreaking $1 billion donation—the largest gift given to any medical school in the U.S.

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The funds come from a former professor at the college, Ruth Gottesman, who has been associated with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine for some 55 years. Her fortune largely stems from early investments in Berkshire Hathaway (BRK.A) made by her late husband, the billionaire businessman David Gottesman.

The gift, which requires the Einstein College of Medicine to maintain its current name, will take effect swiftly. All current fourth-year students at the school will be reimbursed for their spring 2024 semester tuition. And as of August, all students will receive free tuition moving forward. “This donation radically revolutionizes our ability to continue attracting students who are committed to our mission, not just those who can afford it,” said Yaron Tomer, the school’s dean, in a statement. “Additionally, it will free up and lift our students, enabling them to pursue projects and ideas that might otherwise be prohibitive.”

Gottesman first joined the college in the 1960s and made a name for herself after developing a series of screening, evaluation and treatment methods at its Children’s Evaluation and Rehabilitation Center (CERC). She later introduced an adult literacy program at the center in 1992 and eventually became a founding director of CERC’s learning disability treatment center.

Paying it forward

Her husband David, meanwhile, co-founded the investment firm First Manhattan and had an estimated net worth of $3 billion at the time of his death in 2022. Known as Sandy and often referred to as the protege of Warren Buffett, he struck up a long-running friendship and business association with the Berkshire Hathaway head after the two were introduced in the 1960s and was an early investor in the conglomerate, where he also sat on the board. After his passing, David Gottesman unexpectedly left a portfolio of Berkshire Hathaway stock with a message instructing Ruth to “do whatever you think is right with it,” as reported by The New York Times.

“I am very thankful to my late husband, Sandy, for leaving these funds in my care, and I feel blessed to be given the great privilege of making this gift to such a worthy cause,” said Gottesman in a statement. The 93-year-old maintains close ties to the Einstein College of Medicine, serving as chair of its board of trustees and as a professor emerita of pediatrics.

Several other New York medical schools now offer free tuition via philanthropy. After raising hundreds of thousands of dollars from various donors, New York University’s School of Medicine in 2018 announced its plan to offer tuition at no cost. At Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, a $250 million gift from pharmaceutical mogul Roy Vagelos in 2017 enabled the school to offer need-based full-tuition scholarships.

At the Einstein College of Medicine, which welcomes more than 100 new students each year, Gottesman’s gift will be “transformative,” according to Philip Ozuah, president and CEO of the college’s umbrella organization Montefiore Einstein. “I believe we can change healthcare history when we recognize that access is the path to excellence,” he said in a statement. Founded in 1955, the school is located in New York City’s poorest borough—one underserved by primary care facilities and health care workers.

The medical school has previously benefited from the patronage of the Gottesmans, who were longtime donors to its research and education facilities. A $25 million gift from the couple in 2008, for example, helped establish an institute for stem cell and regenerative medicine research.

Who Is Ruth Gottesman, the Donor Behind an Unprecedented $1B Gift to Albert Einstein College of Medicine?