At a March 11 meeting of the University of Rochester Board of Trustees, University President and CEO Joel Seligman was approved as the inaugural holder of the G. Robert Witmer, Jr. University Professorship.
Established by a $2 million commitment from alumnus G. Robert Witmer, Jr., chair emeritus of the University of Rochester Board of Trustees, and his wife Nancy, the Witmer University Professorship provides financial support for the University president.
“Bob will be forever linked to the leaders of an institution that he has loved and helped make great for more than 60 years,” said Seligman. “I cannot think of a gift that could more appropriately speak to his longstanding leadership and influence on this University. This is an endowment to support the University president, not me personally, similar to endowments that support some of our deans.
“But it is an extraordinary honor to be the inaugural holder. Bob’s leadership, guidance, and friendship have meant a great deal to me over the past decade. The way the University has transformed in that time would not have been possible without his thoughtful and ever-present support.”
A member of the University’s board since 1979, Bob Witmer’s service has spanned four University presidencies, one of the longest trustee tenures in Rochester’s history. He chaired the board from 2003 until 2008, a period that included the selection of Seligman as the University’s tenth president and preparation for the 2011 launch ofThe Meliora Challenge: The Campaign for the University of Rochester. He also has served as a member or chair of 10 board committees. In addition, Bob has provided his leadership to numerous boards and councils across the University, including as president of the Eastman Dental Center Board of Directors, chair of the Eastman School of Music National Council, and chair of the University Alumni Council, to name only a few.
“There isn’t a part of the University or the Rochester community that Bob hasn’t touched in some way,” said Edmund A. Hajim, chair of the University’s board. “He is truly Mr. Rochester. On behalf of the entire board, let me express our deep gratitude to Bob and Nancy for this very generous gift in support of the University and the presidency. I can think of no more fitting legacy for a family that has been so important to the history of the University of Rochester.”
The Witmers’ decision to create the endowed professorship is rooted in a desire to help provide a strong finish for The Meliora Challenge, which has raised more than $1.3 billion and ends on June 30.
“The University of Rochester has played a significant role in my life and the lives of many family members,” said Bob Witmer. “The Witmer Professorship will recognize and support the presidents of this great institution, which has meant so much to me and has been so important to the Rochester community where I have lived my entire life. I am particularly pleased that the inaugural holder will be our current extraordinary leader, and my good friend, Joel Seligman. He is setting the bar exceedingly high for those who will follow him.”
In addition to establishing the G. Robert Witmer, Jr. University Professorship, the Witmers’ philanthropy has reached all corners of the University. This includes the president’s house, known as the Witmer House in honor of Bob’s parents, Marian C. Witmer and the Honorable G. Robert Witmer, Sr. As a member of the Class of 1926, Bob’s father was one of 13 University of Rochester alumni in the Witmer family.
A 1959 Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University, Witmer became a member of the first class of inductees to the University’s Sports Hall of Fame as co-captain of the varsity basketball team. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1962, he began a long and successful career at Nixon Peabody LLP. He served as president of the New York State Bar Association from 1994-95, is a life member of The American Law Institute, and received the Rodenbeck Award from the Monroe County Bar Association in 2008. A longstanding member and former president of the Rochester Rotary, Witmer received the Rochester Rotary Award in 2013.