By Ruth Steinhardt
When Avram “Ave” Tucker attended the George Washington University on a baseball scholarship, his team played on the National Mall’s Ellipse—a picturesque but impractical home base between the Washington Monument and the White House with no dugout, spectator seating or bathrooms. Almost four decades later, GW dedicated Tucker Field and built a new clubhouse there in honor of a major gift from Tucker, B.B.A. ’77, who had, by that time, become CEO and co-founder of business and litigation consulting company TM Financial Forensics, LLC.
The new and improved baseball diamond was a concrete transformation that reflects Tucker’s practical attitude toward philanthropy—that personal success means making success possible for others. A member of GW’s Board of Trustees since 2013, he has established the Avram S. Tucker Endowed Professorship in Strategy and Leadership, the Avram S. Tucker Professorial Fellowship and the Tucker Scholarship funds at the School of Business. He also created the Simon Tucker, J.D. ’53, L.L.M. ’55 Law Scholarship in honor of his late father, a Navy veteran who worked full time at the State Department while attending GW Law at night.
To commemorate GW’s Giving Day 2022 on April 6 and as part of Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships, Tucker will spearhead the Tucker Challenge, matching gifts up to $250,000 and adding an additional gift of $100,000 if that benchmark is hit. He spoke to GW Today about why he gives, why GW matters and his own only-at-GW moment.
Q: What makes student aid such a compelling issue for you?
A: First of all, it gives an opportunity to students who couldn't otherwise afford to go to college, or specifically to go to GW. It also helps the university, because it makes it possible for GW to attract some of the best students. And this is related, but I think it also helps with diversity and inclusion, particularly those who might be the first generation in their family coming to college.
Now is a particularly important time to support students because things are getting tougher for everybody—both in terms of people’s ability to afford college and the cost of college. I feel the challenge will encourage people to give and increase GW’s ability to help very deserving students with access to education.
Q: What makes GW special to you?
A: I joke that my blood runs buff and blue because of all my GW connections. I was born at the old GW Hospital, and as it turns out, although I met my wife in San Francisco, she’s originally from McLean, Virginia, and we were both born at the old GW Hospital.
My father was a naval officer in World War II, and when he came back, he wanted to get a law degree. According to my mother, he turned Harvard down because he didn’t want to give up his $3,000-a-year job at the State Department, so he went to GW Law at night. He did well there and worked for the State Department as a lawyer for the next 30 years.
My mother-in-law, who grew up in a family of modest means in Rhode Island, had to work to help her family and delayed finishing high school. She moved to Washington, D.C., on her own, found a job with the government, finished high school at night and then went to GW. This was the 1940s, and she wanted to be an economist, which not too many women were doing at that time. GW gave her that opportunity.
When it came to me, I came out of high school in Maryland and maybe thought I was better than I was at baseball. I went to Florida to play for a year, but the players were in a different league. I came back and went to Montgomery College, which is where I met the new GW baseball coach, Mike Toomey, and became his first recruit. He gave me a scholarship to play at GW, which allowed me to get a top-notch education and put a good college on my resume, which was very helpful in my business career.
Q: What kind of only-at-GW moments did you have?
A: Well, we played baseball on the Ellipse, and we had no fences and no dugouts and no bathrooms. So that was pretty interesting. There were so many memorable events at the Ellipse including having the National Christmas Tree in deep left field and having games stopped so the president’s helicopter could land.
The one story that the coach always tells is that we beat Penn State University in one game of a double-header, and because there was no fence, I was able to catch some balls that would have been home runs in any park with a fence. According to the GW coach, the Penn State coach said that he was not coming back until we got a fence or got rid of me. That’s my main claim to fame.
Q: You’re a GW trustee and previously served on the dean’s board of advisers for the School of Business. What is it about GW as an institution that has kept you so strongly connected?
A: I think GW is strong academically and provides great opportunities to people. I believe that GW as an institution—faculty, staff and leadership included—prioritizes helping students. They provide opportunities that help students be successful and keep evolving. So that’s why I feel connected to GW.
The GW community is also special. When I went there, we were kind of dispersed—it wasn’t really a cohesive campus in those days like it is now. But I’ve noticed in law, business and athletics, which are the areas I’m most familiar with, I see a continual increase in alumni support of the current students and of each other now.
I try to get back to GW five or more times a year for baseball games, and I often speak to the players about life after college. Many call me for advice and tell me about what they’re doing, and I talk to them about ways I think they can succeed and be happy no matter what their profession.
Q: GW’s fundraising is focusing on how aid opens doors. Your involvement with GW has opened doors for the next generation of students—who opened doors for you?
A: First, obviously, my parents did. They both pushed academics, but they also supported my athletic endeavors. They also both encouraged philanthropy, even though we weren't all that wealthy growing up. They felt that we had gotten opportunities that others might not, and that it would be good to give to people who didn't get the same access.
My business mentor, Alan Peterson, who recently passed away, felt the same way about giving opportunities to others. He was focused on education and on legal aid. I’ve tried to take what my mentors and parents taught me and use it for what I hope is the greater good.
Q: What are your hopes for the Tucker Challenge?
A: I'm hoping people continue to help others. I'd like GW to continue to strive for excellence and preeminence, and I think the scholarships are one way to do that.
Giving Day is an annual philanthropic celebration highlighting various programs across GW including student scholarship and financial aid. Learn more about how GW is expanding access to the transformative power of a GW education through scholarships and fellowships. Open Doors: The Centuries Initiative for Scholarships & Fellowships charts a course to expand opportunity for the next generation of leaders at GW.