Donor Stories

The Elliotts Find Satisfaction Helping Others Reach Their Goals

For Brett and Gwen Elliott, their best “giving” experiences have involved helping others as part of their professions.

Brett, an ophthalmologist, says that he derives a “tremendous sense of accomplishment” when he is able to preserve or restore an individual’s eyesight.

As a retired public and medical librarian, Gwen says sharing an “aha” moment with clients when she was able to assist them in finding information in libraries or medical-care resources that they needed, provided a feeling of satisfaction.

The Elliotts, both Allegheny College graduates, also choose to support financially the organizations that have developed and nurtured their curiosity. Recently, they established the Brett ’65 and Gwendolyn ’64 Elliott Professorship for Interdisciplinary Studies at Allegheny. That professorship is scheduled to be awarded after July 1, 2017.

“We both have that personal connection with the College, and so Allegheny has always held a special place in our hearts,” says Gwen. “We wanted to help Allegheny, and the College suggested this professorship. We come from library and science backgrounds so it is natural to be interested in disciplines working together.”

Prior to endowing the professorship, the Delaware couple established the Brett and Gwendolyn Elliott Faculty Support Fund that has helped fill the College’s research and travel needs. For example, the fund provided meals for the spring 2017 Lunch and Learning Series; helped pay for a professor to attend the Council of Independent Colleges Senior Leadership Conference; supported a professor’s work on a project that developed ways to help students with their mathematics skills; and paid for five Allegheny faculty members to attend the biennial conference of the Council on Undergraduate Research.

“We discuss philanthropic options and support organizations even if one of us is more committed than the other,” says Brett. “Educational institutions are our main focus, specifically Allegheny and public libraries. Since both of us went to Allegheny, it was easy to agree on supporting the College.”

In 1963, Brett and Gwen met in Brooks Dining Hall at Allegheny College, had a wonderful romance and married after Brett graduated in 1965. Gwen worked as a librarian and was involved in the planning of the Dover, Delaware, Public Library that opened in 2012. She also served on the board of Planned Parenthood of Delaware. Brett went on to medical school, interned at Bethesda Navy Hospital, and served in the Submarine Service. Then Brett completed his residency, started his ophthalmology practice, and served for two years as chief of staff at the local hospital.

How do the Elliotts choose nonprofits to support?

“As Joseph Campbell said: ‘Follow your bliss,’” they say.

“Allegheny provided us with a unique exposure to the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities. All three are vital to our nation,” adds Brett. “The physicist or chemist describes how to fabricate a stronger carbon fiber. However, it is the realm of those educated in the humanities and social sciences that often determine if our society focuses on using the carbon fiber for a better wind turbine airfoil or for a stronger ICBM nose-cone. To us both, an expertise in the STEM disciplines and humanities is vital for our nation to prosper, and Allegheny provided us with a foundation in both.”

“Allegheny provided us with a unique exposure to the physical sciences, social sciences and humanities. All three are vital to our nation”

Brett Elliott ’65

The Elliotts say that Allegheny’s greatest gift to them as students was instilling in them the spirit of intellectual curiosity.

“At Allegheny, I developed a curiosity about what makes the physical world tick and how society works,” says Brett. “I also had the realization of how important it is to constructively question authority and what is accepted as a ‘given.’ Harold M. State, a chemistry professor, told us that there were many ‘givens’ in science that were shown to be false, and that intelligent questioning is a trait that should be cherished.”

Gwen remembers Professor Alfred Kern’s remark that he had read essays from incoming first-year students and “one word that was always missing was ‘curiosity.’ Curiosity is an important key to learning, and I applied that to a course that most impressed me at Allegheny – Julian Ross’ Philosophy in Literature.”

The Elliotts say they look forward to their continued support of Allegheny and to seeing the College prosper as it moves into its third century of educating difference-makers in the world.

— Rick Stanley