This spring, we were saddened by the loss of a true pioneer, one of the Foundation’s most eminent leaders, Dr. Beatrix (Betty) Hamburg, who passed away on April 15 at the age of 94. Dr. Hamburg served as a member of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees for over two decades, including six years as President of the Foundation from 1992 to 1998.
Betty Hamburg was the first woman, and the first and only African American to serve as president of the Foundation, among many “firsts” in her distinguished career. She was the first self-identified African American admitted to Vassar College, and the first African American woman to earn a medical degree from the Yale Medical School. Her experiences differed dramatically at these institutions: As she explained in an interview celebrating the Medical School’s bicentennial, “I was recruited to Vassar when they wanted to have an African American student.” By contrast, “it wasn’t a very big deal to be an African American at Yale, but it was much more of a challenge to be a woman there,” she avowed.
In a career of pioneering research, Dr. Hamburg produced novel insights on the biology of stress, the potential value of peer counseling for teenagers, and the psychology of adolescence, among other topics. Under her leadership, the Foundation contributed to advances in developing opportunities for racial and ethnic minority youth and to the prevention of youth violence, topics that loom as large today as they did during her presidency. With essays such as “The epidemic of youth violence: effective solutions require new perspectives” (1995 Annual Report) and “Making winners out of losers: New models for creating decent futures for youth in the criminal justice system” (1996 Annual Report), Dr. Hamburg’s intellectual leadership set a pattern that resonates today in the Foundation’s focus on reducing inequality in youth outcomes.
Part of the ultimate power couple, Dr. Hamburg was married to Dr. David Hamburg, also a noted medical researcher and leader; for a period during the 1990s, Betty led the William T. Grant Foundation while David was president of the Carnegie Corporation. Both Drs. Hamburg are elected members of the prestigious Institute of Medicine, as is their daughter, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, formerly Commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and now foreign secretary of the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration.
Betty Hamburg is warmly remembered by long-serving staff at the Foundation. “Dignified, compassionate, respectful, and gracious to everyone, she left an indelible impression that will last a lifetime,” lamented technology director Linda Rosano upon learning of Dr. Hamburg’s passing. Added grants coordinator Nancy Rivera-Torres, “She had a keen intellect; she was classy, generous, and above all, a caring person. I’m fortunate to have worked with her.”
The Washington Post has published an informative and moving obituary of Dr. Hamburg.