Couple’s gift endows The Seymour and Ruth Perlin Professorship in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and celebrates the family’s unique 100-year history at GW.
By Kristen Hatcher
For more than a century and over four generations, their family has been a part of George Washington University. This year, Jonathan B. Perlin and Donna J. Perlin found a way to celebrate the couple at the very center of that long history.
Their endowment of The Seymour and Ruth Perlin Professorship in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at GW’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) honors Jonathan’s parents and supports an up-and-coming faculty member in psychiatry who shares SMHS Professor Emeritus Seymour Perlin’s passion for training residents in the field.
“We wanted to recognize my parents, their contributions and their love for GW,” Jonathan said. “Just as GW has played a significant role in our family’s success, it’s wonderful to pay it forward through this professorship and invest in others who will also experience the benefit of a GW education.”
Jonathan’s father, Seymour, or “Sy,” was professor of psychiatry and director of GW’s psychiatry residency training program at SMHS from 1977 to 1998. Both Sy and Ruth are founding members of the Friends of the Luther W. Brady Art Gallery. Ruth, an art historian and museum educator, also serves as a member of the GW Textile Museum board.
The family’s affiliation with GW began more than 100 years ago, however, when Ruth’s father began his law studies at GW in 1921, earning his law degree in 1924. Rome Hall is named after Ruth’s cousin, local construction legend Benjamin Rome. Sy joined GW’s clinical faculty in 1974 and two of their sons — Jonathan’s brothers — earned graduate degrees from GW. This fall, a fourth generation will come to GW when grandson Connor begins medical school.
Jonathan, who is president and CEO of health care accreditation organization The Joint Commission, and Donna, a pediatric emergency medicine physician, wanted to honor that legacy and make “a durable commitment” to GW that would make a difference in resident education.
“A lot of gifts support research and others support bricks-and-mortar,” Jonathan said. “As physicians, my wife and I wanted to support the educators who train the folks conducting research, practicing and teaching at the university.”
President Mark S. Wrighton, who has known the Perlins since his time at Washington University in St. Louis, noted that endowed professorships are critical to GW's mission. “They allow us to recruit and retain the best and brightest faculty who contribute research, teaching and mentorship in important areas such as psychiatry," Wrighton said. “We are very grateful that Jonathan and Donna chose to honor Jonathan's parents with an enduring tribute that will benefit generations of future psychiatrists and their patients.”
From left to right: SMHS Dean Barbara L. Bass, President Mark S. Wrighton, Jonathan B. Perlin, Donna J. Perlin, Seymour Perlin, Ruth R. Perlin, Connor R. Perlin and Jeffrey S. Akman. (Photo/Patrick Sanders/GW DAR)
SMHS Dean Barbara Lee Bass said the school is “grateful to the Perlin family for supporting the clinical and educational missions of our Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences.”
“This professorship, like all endowed professorships, will elevate the visibility and prestige of the department and shine a spotlight on the importance of training,” Bass said.
When it comes to philanthropy in higher education, it can seem abstract to talk about affinity for an institution or support for resident education, Jonathan said.
“But to see one of my father’s former residents like Jeff Akman advance from medical resident to the former dean of GW’s medical school really embodies the purpose of investing in graduate medical training,” he said. “It’s really watching the legacy of GW medical education span multiple generations.”
Affectionately regarded within the family as the “fourth Perlin son,” Interim Chair of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences Jeffrey S. Akman, M.D. ’81, RESD ‘85, called the endowed professorship “a love letter to Ruth and Sy as parents and grandparents.” Akman trained under Sy as a psychiatry resident and regards that time as instrumental to not just his medical career but also to his outlook on life.
“This fantastic gift reflects the family’s generosity, commitment to education and the importance of the academy in their lives,” he said. “I learned what it meant to be a true citizen of the university by watching Sy.”
The Perlin family embodies the true value and meaning of community at GW, said Donna Arbide, vice president of development and alumni relations, adding that the endowed professorship “beautifully highlights” the intertwined relationships among family, friends and the university.
“Jonathan and Donna’s generosity is more than an investment in the future of mental health and mental health education,” she said. “It’s a remarkable demonstration of a family’s love for one another, and for an institution that has meant so much to them. We cherish GW’s ongoing partnership with this extraordinary family.”
Contributions to The Seymour and Ruth Perlin Professorship in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences will support early-career faculty members in psychiatry who have an interest in resident education and who are committed to training the next generation of psychiatrists.