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The Gerald R. Gill Fund: Tribute to a beloved professor

In the summer of 2007, Tufts established the Gerald R. Gill Fund as a way to pay lasting tribute to a Tufts legacy who was “more than a professor,” says former student Pete Shungu, A03, AG10.

“Professor Gill was an integral part of all aspects of life at Tufts,” he adds, “from his project on the history of African-American athletes at Tufts, to his presence at Black Men's Group meetings, to his taking time after class to give myself and some other students a historical tour of the campus.”

Sara Franklin, A08, says, “Professor Gill became my mentor, advisor, and a member of my family. He spoke on the phone with my father when baseball season heated up and gently shook my mother's hand when she finally felt well enough to visit Tufts despite being weakened by chemotherapy.”

In the classroom, Gill pushed Franklin “harder than anyone ever has.” She says, “He wanted me not only to be a scholar, but to be a thinker and an activist—to him, having his students use their learned knowledge to act was the greatest reward he could ever know.”

Read about the most recent recipient of a scholarship from the Gerald R. Gill Fund here.

An everlasting light on the Hill

A native of New Rochelle, N.Y., and graduate of Lafayette College and Howard University, Professor Gerald Gill joined the Tufts faculty in 1980, where he remained until his death in 2007. The victim of a heart attack, he was only 59 years old.

In both 1995 and 1999, the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Education named Gill "Massachusetts College Professor of the Year." Through his impassioned teaching, “he inspired those with no interest in his field of study to be scholarly historians and, more importantly, citizens of the world,” recalls Janice Savin Williams, J79, a member of the Board of Trustees.

Beyond his tremendous scholarship on African-American history, Gill is remembered for being a devoted teacher and mentor who made deep connections with students, faculty, and staff alike. Former students recall his passion for teaching, his willingness to talk at any time of day, and his ability to learn and remember names and little details about their lives from the first day of class to decades later.

Caroline Berz, J97, recalls, “After I graduated, when I would run into him (usually outside the Harvard Bookstore) he would always remember to ask about my entire family, including my new niece and nephew whom he had never met.”

Michael Broughton, A01, didn’t have his first class with Gill until his junior year, and remembers thinking, “I had wasted two years by not going sooner.” Broughton kept the textbooks from those classes after college, continuing to study the subjects Gill had taught him.

“I like to think I am a better man, thanks to him,” he says.

Honoring a legacy

Since its inception, the Gerald R. Gill Fund has received more than $410,000 from more than 300 donors, including a matching gift from the Jay Pritzker Foundation. Supporters include faculty, friends, colleagues, and alumni. Having already established an endowed scholarship, the university now seeks to establish a professorship in Gill’s name—the highest honor that can be bestowed on a faculty member.

No gift is too small to make an impact, especially thanks to a pledge by William Jacobson, A90, who has generously agreed to match all gifts up to $10,000.

As a former colleague of Professor Gill put it in an online tribute, “He did everything with such humanity and generosity, and gave so much of himself to all of us.” Now is the time to return that generosity.

View the 2013 Gerald R. Gill Fund report.

To learn more about the Gerald R. Gill Fund, please contact:
Kosta Alexis
Associate Director of Development
School of Arts and Sciences