A Visionary Legacy
Paul and Carolyn Lichter make generous plans for the future.
They had gone to different high schools in the Detroit area, but Paul R. (M.D. 1964, M.S. 1968, Residency 1968) and Carolyn R. Lichter had met and started dating just months before they found themselves together as first-year students on the University of Michigan campus in 1956, both studying in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
They didn’t know it then, but their lives would become intertwined with each other’s — and with U-M.
“We go back a long way with the university,” says Paul Lichter, today an active emeritus faculty member. He is the immediate past chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, a position he held for 34 years, and the founding director of the W.K. Kellogg Eye Center.
In an act of generosity that celebrates their history and adds to their legacy at U-M, the Lichters have made a planned gift to establish the Paul R. and Carolyn R. Lichter Department Chair of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, an endowed professorship that will be held by the chair of the department.
“We wanted to help the department in perpetuity, and having our family's name attached to the chairmanship is particularly meaningful to us,” says Paul Lichter. “It will provide income that enables the chair to pursue a wide range of leadership and research activities.”
The gift is part of the Lichters’ lifetime of charitable contributions to U-M, including additional bequests to the U-M Museum of Art (UMMA) and the University Musical Society (UMS) after years of involvement and enjoyment.
A Shared Journey
The Lichters married after earning their undergraduate degrees, and Paul Lichter went on to complete medical school, a master’s degree, and an ophthalmology residency at U-M. He joined the faculty in 1971 and became chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences in 1978.
As chair, he pursued a dream of building a leading-edge, comprehensive eye center to advance patient care, research, and education. He realized his goal in 1985, becoming the founding director of the W.K. Kellogg Eye Center, a new home for his growing department. Starting with seven faculty and 10 staff members in 1978, he grew the department 12-fold in faculty and 30-fold in staff before stepping down as chair in 2012. He continues to see patients and take part in teaching, research, and fundraising for the eye center and Medical School.
Carolyn Lichter played a vital role in the department’s growth, often hosting and advising on events, including donor and alumni gatherings. She also became involved with UMMA, serving as a founding member of the first docent class and as a member of the Friends of the Museum of Art board. The Lichters’ bequest to UMMA will establish an endowed fund to support workshops and residencies that will enrich docent learning.
“I love the arts,” Carolyn Lichter says. “I was a docent at the museum for 18 years and spent a lot of time there. I felt invested, which is one of the reasons I wanted to support the museum through our estate plan. And we love music, so we also decided to make a planned gift to UMS.”
A project that bridged the Lichters’ interests over the years was curating the Kellogg Eye Center’s collection of approximately 700 pieces of Asian and contemporary art. They worked together to select artwork as part of the construction budgets. On their travels, they purchased pieces, including batik art from Indonesia, which they then donated. They also welcomed gifts from other benefactors. Several of Paul Lichter’s photographs, mainly of nature, are part of the collection, which is on display throughout the eye center.
“We looked for colorful art, so that people whose vision was impaired could appreciate the art from the aspect of its color, if not fully its form,” says Paul Lichter.
For all of the ways the Lichters contribute to the university, philanthropy has always been an important part of the story. Paul Lichter led the fundraising efforts for the first Kellogg Eye Center building that opened in 1985, the 2010 Brehm Tower expansion, and programming needs. Personally, they have made capital and annual gifts to their areas of interest, including a significant Medical School scholarship. And they served as members of the Washtenaw County Campaign Leadership Council during the Victors for Michigan campaign. They also helped establish the Dr. Max and Buena Lichter Research Professorship in the Department of Family Medicine in memory of Paul Lichter’s parents.
As the Lichters think about the transfer of immense wealth in this country as Baby Boomers age, they hope others will consider bequests to U-M and other charities.
“Our goal with our estate plan was to strike a balance,” says Paul Lichter. “We wanted to be generous both to our family and to our community.”