Elaine Schuster passed away on August 1, 2022, after this story was published. Read more about her extraordinary life.
Over the course of their 65-year marriage, Elaine and Gerald “Jerry” Schuster built an enduring legacy as passionate advocates for improving the lives of others through philanthropy. From health care to housing to education, the impact of the Schusters’ generosity is widespread and particularly visible in their native Boston.
Located at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Schuster Family Transplantation Research Center is dedicated to research and clinical care, improving outcomes for transplant recipients around the world. The couple helped create the Hospitality Homes organization, the first of its kind in the nation, to provide free short-term housing to ensure that friends and family members of patients receiving medical care at Boston-area hospitals could be close to their loved ones. They were also instrumental in establishing Operation P.E.A.C.E. (Partnerships in Education and Community Enrichment) to provide free educational programs for under-resourced communities in Boston and Atlanta.
Following her husband’s death in 2018, Elaine Schuster chose to honor his memory by continuing the couple’s tradition of giving back. Through gifts made to Harvard Business School (HBS) and Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), she is supporting important work across the University on business, leadership, and journalism—topics that her husband cared deeply about.
“Having known the Schusters for years, I can say that Elaine’s generosity is such a special testament to Jerry’s memory, as well as a fitting tribute to her own lifelong commitment to education. This is a gift not only to Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School, but to all who will benefit from the knowledge it generates and the leaders it inspires,” says Harvard President Lawrence S. Bacow JD ’76, MPP ’76, PhD ’78. “We are so grateful to have the Schuster family as part of our Harvard family.”
Educating Future Leaders
Though he enjoyed a long and successful business career as the founder of financial services and real estate development company Continental Wingate, Jerry Schuster was more than just a businessman—he was a true leader in his community. Nitin Nohria, dean of HBS and George F. Baker Professor of Administration, hopes that the School’s students, faculty, and leadership will follow this example.
“The School’s mission of educating leaders who make a difference in the world has never been more important than it is today,” Nohria says. “Through his distinguished legacy as a devoted husband and father, accomplished businessman, philanthropist, and engaged citizen, Jerry will be remembered forever as a leader who made a difference in the world.”
Leaders like Schuster who are trained in business, says Nohria, can play a key role in solving many of the problems faced by our society today. With Elaine Schuster’s gift to endow the Gerald Schuster Associate Professorship of Business Administration and the Schuster Family Faculty Fellowship and Research Fund, HBS can continue to build and maintain a strong pipeline of talented faculty who can pursue research while also educating future leaders.
“The Schuster family’s abiding connection to HBS through Jerry’s named funds will inspire generations of students and faculty,” says Nohria.
Protecting Truth in Media
In today’s media environment, how can journalists cover the impact of misinformation without unintentionally spreading “fake news” further? Elaine Schuster hopes her recent gift to endow the Schuster Media and Technology Research Fellowship at the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics, and Public Policy at HKS will help faculty and staff answer this question, bolstering their efforts to restore the public’s trust and confidence in reporting.
According to a 2019 study by the Pew Research Center, 50 percent of Americans believe the spread of fabricated news or information poses a bigger threat to the country than terrorism or climate change. For Nancy Gibbs, director of the Shorenstein Center and the visiting Edward R. Murrow Professor of Practice at HKS, this statistic highlights the critical importance of the work being conducted at the Shorenstein Center.
While misinformation in the news—often fueled by political division—is not unique to this moment in time, the technologies used to disseminate media have changed drastically. “The tools for creating toxic information are more powerful and widely available than ever before, and the effects more dangerous,” notes Gibbs, the former editor-in-chief of Time.
“Good information is more than a democratic value; it’s survival gear,” she says. In the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this has never been more apt. “Right now, people are so overwhelmed by information—some of it true, much of it not—that it makes it harder for anyone to know what to believe.”
As the founding benefactors of the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University in 2004, the Schusters were responsible for creating the nation’s first investigative reporting center based at a university. Now, with her gift to the Shorenstein Center, Elaine Schuster is continuing to support ongoing research and public-facing events at the intersection of media, technology, and politics.
“Immediate and long-term philanthropic support of journalistic research is vital to providing real-time facts in an age of disinformation campaigns aimed at eroding democracy,” says Gibbs. “We are incredibly grateful to the Schuster family for their strong belief in journalistic integrity and the important role that the Shorenstein Center plays in its future.”
As with their past giving, Elaine Schuster feels confident that her family’s support of Harvard will be felt far beyond campus. “Jerry used his success in business as a means to do great things for so many people,” Schuster says. “It felt right to honor him by giving to programs that will empower others to have a positive impact on our world.”