Changing lives—including their own
Changing lives—including their own
Alexander A. Levitan ’63M (MD) and his wife, Lucy, have given nearly $10 million—more than any living donor—to support the medical experience of students from around the world
Inspired to make education and research experiences possible for students at the University of Rochester’s School of Medicine and Dentistry (SMD), Alexander (Al) A. Levitan ’63M (MD)—a retired internist and oncologist—and his wife, Lucy, have given nearly $10 million to the school. Their philanthropy makes them the largest living donors in SMD’s history who have supported the medical experience of students from around the world through scholarships and fellowships.
But for the Levitans, supporting students goes far beyond financial assistance. They offer friendship, advice, and mentorship, long after the students have earned their degrees. They save every communication sent, attend their weddings and other major life events, and even travel abroad to meet the families of the international students whose lives they’ve changed.
Just ask Akosua Korboe ’16M (MD), the inaugural recipient of the Levitan Family Endowed Scholarship. As a student from Ghana, Korboe was ineligible for federal loans without a US citizen co-signer. Thanks to the Levitan Scholarship, she was able to pursue her dream of attending medical school. Today, she is an accomplished internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“Without the Levitan’s support, I would not have been able to attend medical school,” says Korboe. “And although they aren’t my biological family, they feel like they are to me. “They have become family, pouring into me in countless ways, instilling values, believing in me, and always providing me with love and support. I’m forever grateful.”
Generosity brings generosity
Support from others has inspired Levitans to make education and research experiences possible for 19 students to date and many more to come. “Education has been the most valuable experience of my life,” says Al, who was a scholarship student at SMD and at Cornell University. “Without the generosity and the example of others, I never would have earned my degrees and I never would have had the life nor the career I’ve had.”
The couple started supporting SMD in 1976 with gifts to SMD’s annual fund and the Class of ’63’s reunion fund. Their specific support of students began in 2006, 43 years after Al’s graduation from medical school.That’s when they made a gift of $125,000 to establish the Levitan Scholarship. They have continued to contribute generously to that fund, growing its value and reach. In fiscal year 2023, they added an additional $5.2 million, ensuring that a Levitan Scholar graduates and joins the medical school each year, in perpetuity.
“The Levitan Family Endowed Scholarship stands out not only for its size but also for being the sole need-based full tuition and living expenses scholarship at the school, with a special focus on supporting international students,” says David Lambert, MD, senior associate dean of SMD. “These international students are not eligible for the kinds of support that US students can get and without the scholarship could not attend medical school.”
A legacy of giving and learning
Al and Lucy also established the Alexander and Lucy Levitan Endowment for Medical Student Research Fellowships with a gift of $1.7 million. Because this fund exists, three medical students every year can take a year out of their four-year SMD curriculum to participate in a research program under the direction and mentorship of an established physician-scientist or basic scientist.
“Many of our alumni have shared that these experiences were career-transforming,” adds Lambert.
The family knows this from experience. Al’s father, Sacha, received financial support from the French government when he emigrated from Russia to France and attended college and medical school there. Later, Al’s family traveled the world due to his father’s work with the World Health Organization.
Al and Lucy named funds at both SMD and Cornell as ways to recognize the importance of scholarship support and international experiences and to honor Al’s father and the couple’s late daughter, Lara, who lost her battle with cancer in 2019.
“The story of Al and Lucy is one of inspiration and compassion, a testament to the power of giving and its potential to change lives,” adds Mark Taubman, MD, University of Rochester Medical Center CEO and dean of SMD. “Their philanthropic legacy will forever resonate within the medical school, empowering future generations of students to realize their dreams and make a difference in the world of medicine and research.”
In turn, the couple gets to enrich their own lives with connections to people they view as members of their extended family.
“We are tremendously grateful for the support given to us,” says Lucy. “We have always wanted to give back in a similar way—to provide access and opportunities to talented, deserving medical students from around the world. As a result, we have met so many brilliant young people who will do great things in their lives and careers.”
About the Levitans
Born in Boston, Al received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Cornell University at the age of 19 and his medical degree from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry a few years later. He then completed his internship at Vanderbilt University Hospital and his residency at the Harvard Medical Unit at Boston City Hospital.
Al then served as a lieutenant commander of the US Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. At this same time, he worked as a clinical associate for the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health and contributed to the development of early chemotherapy protocols. He went on to complete a fellowship in medicine at the University of Minnesota Hospitals in Minneapolis. He received his master’s degree in public health in epidemiology from the University of Minnesota in 1970. In 1973, Al sat for the first board exam ever given in oncology.
As an undergraduate and a medical school student, Al worked in Rochester as a chemist at the former Strasenburgh Labs and Eastman Kodak Company. In 1967, he was certified as an independent investigator for the US Food and Drug Administration, a post he held until his retirement from medicine in 1998. In tandem with his private medical practice, he taught for two decades in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota, rising from instructor to clinical associate professor. Al is known for his expertise in many areas, including clinical hypnosis, having participated in numerous surgeries in which it was used as the sole agent for pain control.
Lucy graduated from Vanderbilt Peabody College—Vanderbilt University’s education school— with a degree in English, mathematics, and secondary education. She began her professional life as a high school math and English teacher. She then became a computer programmer and software writer, and, later, the first office manager at Al’s private medical practice.
The Levitans are licensed real estate brokers who co-own A & L Management, LLC, a real estate management company based in the Minneapolis, Minnesota area where they live and raised three daughters, Lara Levitan, Denise Levitan, and Karen Matros ’96. They are members of the Wilson Society, the University’s planned giving society.
Thanks to the involvement and support of the Levitans and other generous alumni, donors, and friends, SMD continues to thrive. Learn how to make a gift and what your gift can support, from outstanding patient care and innovative education to groundbreaking research. Learn more, too, about creating a personal legacy by becoming a member of the Wilson Society, the University’s planned giving society of which the Levitans are a part.
— Kristine Kappel Thompson, September 2023