When Pamela Davis Heilman and Robert Heilman decided to make a game-changing gift to UB School of Law, it was no snap decision. The couple talked it over with each other, discussed it with their family, spoke with the university about it, and weighed their values against what they wanted this gift to accomplish.
But in a larger sense, this philanthropic gesture was the natural next step in the Heilmans’ longtime commitment to their alma mater—an investment in the future of UB and UB Law that they see as an extension of their decades of involvement, from mentoring to alumni leadership to philanthropic commitment.
The result is an extraordinary bequest commitment of $1 million that will endow a new faculty position, the Pamela D. Heilman, JD ’75 and Robert D. Heilman, MBA ’75 Professor of Social Equity and Justice.
It’s an important step forward for the law school and the university. President Satish K. Tripathi has identified an increase in the number of endowed professorships as a crucial factor in further solidifying UB’s reputation as a world-class research university, as the university’s comprehensive Boldly Buffalo campaign nears its transformative goal of $1 billion. The Heilmans have been an integral part of that ambition. Pam has served on both the UB Council—the university’s primary oversight and advisory body—and the law school’s Dean’s Advisory Council, which advises Dean Aviva Abramovsky on curriculum and other matters.
“Both of us have the highest level of respect for Satish, and Pam has had very close involvement,” Bob says. “So that became a guiding light that emerged later in our life. We decided we’ve got to do something that’s significant, to support what the president is trying to do.”
Adds Pam: “We gave thought to some other (ways of giving), but at the end of the day, we came back to the law school, tying us back to the gift of my education there and what that has allowed the two of us to do. It cannot be a great university without a great law school, and vice versa. Those two things tie strongly together.”
Further, she says, serving on the Dean’s Advisory Council made clear how investing in the law school can leverage great gains in quality. “I do think that my participation on DAC probably made the most difference,” she says, “and I wish everybody could serve on the Council. It’s where you become so attuned to what’s really happening, how really great the law school is, and what is needed to sustain that and make it better.” She credits former Dean Makau W. Mutua and now Dean Abramovsky for articulating a vision of excellence that continues to move the school forward.
Dean Abramovsky announced the Heilmans’ gift at a recent meeting of the council—which drew a standing ovation from the members. “Pam and Bob are two of the most dedicated and engaged graduates of the University at Buffalo and of their respective schools—the Schools of Law and Management,” Abramovsky said. “They exemplify what it means to be engaged and to help others, especially our students. And they lead by example. Over many decades, they have invested countless hours of their time, as well as their talent and treasure, to ensure the success of the university and, especially, that of the School of Law and our students—and they have made a tremendous and enduring difference. I am so humbled and deeply honored by their generosity and kindness.”
A longtime corporate law partner in the Buffalo law firm Hodgson Russ LLP, Pam specialized in not-for-profit law as well as cross-border legal issues, advising Canadian individuals and companies doing business in the United States; she helped establish the firm’s office in Toronto. As one of the firm’s first women partners, she was also in the vanguard of the democratization of the profession along gender lines, and even in retirement continues to mentor and advocate for women lawyers.
Her pioneering efforts to promote the advancement of women extend to the broader community. She was the first woman campaign chair, and later board chair, of the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County. And she served as a director of the International Alliance for Women, an umbrella organization for 39 organizations working to foster the economic empowerment of women.
Her commitment to that empowerment and the diversification of the legal profession is evident in her vision for this new endowed professor role. The Heilmans’ gift specifies that the professorship is open to outstanding faculty members whose teaching and scholarship focus on social equity and justice, with preference given to a female academic.
When she applied to UB Law in 1971, Pam says, “I didn’t understand that in all three of the classes at the time, there were probably only a dozen women.” But a new policy of gender-blind admissions resulted in an incoming class that was about 25% female.
She recalls that the law school was very supportive of its women students. Professor (later UB President) Bill Greiner helped her get her 1L summer legal job. “Who knew that he even knew me?” she says. “Suddenly, he called me up, and I had a job.”
Their commitment to social justice has also been a constant, and the Heilmans are thoughtful and intentional about how the law can build equity in U.S. society.
“This professorship is being designated as one for social equity and justice,” she says. “The only way to go back to the core values of this country that we love, and to allow all American people to have the opportunities that Bob and I had to become who we are today, is a return to those values. And the law school can play a very pivotal role in that, through its research, through its faculty, through the learning and the interdisciplinary scholarship that engages the law school community in our wonderful university campus. It’s just essential.”
Published December 29, 2022