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Profiles in Giving

The Pleasure of Giving, According to Dr. Ruth

By Peter Wortsman

Dr. Ruth Westheimer
At 4 feet, 7 inches, Dr. Ruth Westheimer gleefully claims that the pleasure of giving makes her “walk very straight and maybe adds that extra bounce.” Not that she needs any personality enhancer.

A noted media psychologist and educator of the airwaves popularly known as Dr. Ruth, her syndicated radio program (“Sexually Speaking”), TV programs (“Ask Dr. Ruth” and “The Dr. Ruth Show”), 15 books, three documentary films, and lecture appearances around the country and worldwide have made her a household name and a trusted adviser to people from all walks of life. Limousines and sanitation trucks alike routinely pull over for drivers and passengers to call out the window: “Thanks, Dr. Ruth!”

Now it’s her turn to give thanks. She sees philanthropy as a “kind of pleasurable obligation to pay society back so that others can learn and profit and help others in turn.” A graduate of the New School for Social Research and Columbia Teachers College, Dr. Westheimer has established named scholarships at both institutions. A longtime resident of Washington Heights, she also has contributed to her local YMHA, where she is president of the board.

Her abiding interest is “the health of the whole person, body and soul.” In recent years she has directed her benevolent attention upon P&S, contributing to the Kenneth Forde’58 Professorship and the Drs. Ruth Westheimer/Allan Schwartz’74 Fellowship Fund.

Why give to medical education at P&S?

“Part of it,” she says, “has to do with just plain saying thank you, and part with a Jewish tradition of helping. Dr. Kenneth Forde took excellent care of my late husband, and Dr. Allan Schwartz is quite simply a superb cardiologist who helped me. Both are not only great doctors, but also fantastic human beings, individuals who truly care and take care of the patient. So for me it is a tremendous pleasure to be able to support their research and help train young people to become doctors like them.”

A survivor of the Holocaust and veteran of the Israeli War of Independence, Dr. Westheimer is deeply committed to the Jewish ideal of Tzedakah, commonly translated as righteousness or charity. “For me, being in education my whole life, it is crucial that what I give should go to training others.”

Currently an adjunct professor at NYU, she is a fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine and regularly conducts seminars on adolescent sexuality for pediatric residents and interns at Brookdale Hospital, SUNY Downstate Medical Center. A popular speaker on the college lecture circuit, she has twice been named “College Lecturer of the Year.” She also pursues a private practice.

Dr. Westheimer recently produced, directed, and narrated her third documentary, “No Missing Link,” on how grandparents transmit essential values in diverse cultures, including the former Soviet Union and the Trobriand Islands in Papua New Guinea. The documentary will be aired on PBS. Among her 15 books are a memoir, “All in a Lifetime,” and her latest, “Grandparenthood.”

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