After the passing of Morton Gurtin PhD’61, P’82, GP’13, in early 2022, the Gurtin family came together to decide the best way to honor him and their shared legacy at Brown. Morton arrived at Brown in 1959 as a PhD student in the nascent applied mathematics department, transitioning from an engineering career to becoming a renowned professor whose research in nonlinear continuum mechanics and thermodynamics received extensive academic honors. He went on to join the Mathematics Department at Carnegie Mellon University as a full professor and was later honored with an endowed chair under the prestigious title of Alumni Professor of Mathematics. His son, Bill, class of ’82, shared that as Morton looked back on his long and successful career, one of the most important things to him was his ability to have an impact on the mathematical and applied mathematical community.
Brown’s Donor Advised Fund (DAF) attracted the family as the perfect way to contribute to a professorship in applied math in Morton’s memory. Bill especially liked that the family could contribute over time and have the money invested in Brown’s impressive endowment, direct 25% of the contributions to Brown, and 75% to other charities. “And for that to be done with no fees? It’s a win-win,” shared Bill.
While Morton’s many academic achievements include completing his PhD at Brown in only 18 months and being named both a Guggenheim Fellow and Senior Fulbright-Hays Research Fellow in the same year (1974), he was also a competitive sailor during his years at Brown, a rock climber who scaled the Cinque Torri in Cortina, and a competitive runner, completing the Boston Marathon in under three hours at age forty-seven.
Bill’s mother, Leatrice Wolf, class of ’67, is part of the family legacy at Brown as well. She attended Pembroke College in her mid-20s as a young mother, studying English and American literature. In the fall of 1981, Bill met his wife, Kay Levinson Gurtin ’83, in New Appleby dorm, and their son Grant, class of ’13, attended as well.
Kay’s older brother, Jeffrey Levinson ’79, also attended Brown. Growing up in Oklahoma, this was her first exposure to the East Coast college. She had the serendipitous experience during her admissions process of ending up on an airplane sitting near David Zucconi '55, who worked in Admissions at the time. While she hadn’t yet had an opportunity to interview at Brown, he considered their conversation her interview, and a few weeks later she received the “big envelope” from Brown.
Grant shared that he came to Brown thinking he would follow in his grandfather’s footsteps and study mathematics. He ended up finding his way on the business and entrepreneurship track. Having founded and sold a company while attending, he credits his professors at Brown for so many valuable lessons and skills that he still finds himself using on a daily basis.
Though Liza Gurtin, self-described “black sheep” of the family, didn’t attend Brown (she attended Stanford University, class of ’16), she shared that she “has always had a lot of love for Brown in her heart.” She attended a summer program and enjoyed that time on campus, and has always felt very connected to Brown through her family ties.
Both Grant and Liza directed inheritances from their grandfather to the DAF, participating in a long term, multi-generational legacy to make a charitable impact at many institutions, including Brown.
For the younger Gurtins, it was a way to honor their grandfather’s life in the way he would have wanted his legacy to be remembered. “Our grandfather believed that education was the core of what moved everything forward,” said Liza. “ I love that we are going to help fund the curiosities of the next generation of scholars like him and that we have the opportunity to use what he built as a professor to leave a legacy for others to do the same.”