Part of Goldberg's gift goes toward the education and training of Pritzker School of Medicine students.

In sickness and in health

In the largest alumnus bequest ever to the University of Chicago Medicine and Biological Sciences, a former physician honors UChicago and his wife.

Allan M. Goldberg, PhB’45, MD’52, loved the University of Chicago so much that his caretaker buried him in a UChicago jogging suit. So it was no surprise to people who knew the physician that he would leave the bulk of his estate to the institution that had provided him with such intellectual and personal fulfillment.

In fact, when Goldberg died in 2011 at 84, he left the largest alumnus bequest ever to the University of Chicago Medicine and Biological Sciences. The gift of nearly $17 million has been designated to several areas of the University, establishing the Drs. Gretchen B. H. Goldberg and Allan M. Goldberg Professorship, a Goldberg Charitable Annuity Trust, and medical education and training.

Goldberg, who ran an internal-medicine practice in Homewood and Hazelcrest, Illinois, won a scholarship to attend the University and earned his PhB with highest honors at 17. At the medical school he met his wife, Gretchen Hartmann Goldberg, AB’47, SB’51, MD’52. 

Allan and Gretchen interned together and were both residents in internal medicine and psychiatry at Cincinnati General Hospital. Allan, who had served in the Navy on the USS Gadoeng Strait, studied diabetes and used radioactive iodine from the Manhattan Project to treat thyroid disease. Gretchen discovered that a fatty diet was a major cause of stroke and heart attacks.

But during her residency, Gretchen contracted a disease in the emergency room, which resulted in incomplete quadriplegia. Allan spent the next 40 years caring for Gretchen, with the help of caregiver Mary Houlton.

Houlton, who came to know them by responding to an ad in a newspaper, spent 59 years in the Goldberg home, helping to care for Gretchen and later for an ailing Allan. Allan in turn treated Houlton’s husband when he became ill. Now 82 and mother to eight children and 30 grandchildren, Houlton says some of her fondest memories were working with the Goldbergs.

“We were truly a family,” says a soft-spoken Houlton. “And he loved Gretchen. That’s why I was willing to help him in any way because I admired the way he took care of his wife.”  

The devoted husband—who worked seven days a week, taking house calls until his 2005 retirement—would never miss a meal with his wife, says Houlton. “He would eat breakfast with her, race to the hospital to take care of his patients, and come back for lunch around one o’clock.”

After his wife’s death in 1993, Goldberg made other major gifts in her honor, including a children’s park in Flossmoor and a professorship in neurology at UChicago. In 1996 he became a charter member of the Harper Society, which recognizes those who’ve given significant gifts to the University.

“When an alumnus like Dr. Goldberg makes a gift to the University, it is a testament not only to the institution but also to that person’s commitment to excellence,” says Kenneth S. Polonsky, the Richard T. Crane Distinguished Service Professor, dean of the Division of the Biological Sciences and the Pritzker School of Medicine, and executive vice president for medical affairs.

“He loved the University of Chicago,” Houlton says. “That’s why he decided to give the money to the University.”

Despite his reluctance about an extravagant gravesite, Houlton felt it fitting not only that he be buried in a University jogging suit given to him by an employee but also that a few words grace the stone situated next to Gretchen’s at Abraham Lincoln Nation Cemetery in Elwood, Illinois: “Back Together Again.”