A love affair with Brandeis
For Beverly Shayne Winthrop, her love for Brandeis was always a long-distance affair.
Although she did not attend the University or ever visit campus, Brandeis always represented an ideal to her as a young woman growing up in the 1940s in Chicago and Los Angeles: an institution of higher learning that admitted students based solely on their merits without regard to race, religion, ethnicity or social class.
“She said to me, ‘Darling, I didn’t go to college, but if I had that’s the place I would have gone,’ ” remembered Sara Jane Rose, Beverly’s cousin. “She was so in love with this place that she had never been.”
When she died in November 2011, Beverly offered a final expression of her affection for Brandeis by leaving the University an unrestricted estate gift of nearly $770,000. Sara Jane helped to facilitate the generous gift.
“Beverly knew all about Brandeis and felt very connected to it,” said Sara Jane, whose mother, Judith Gerrick, and Beverly were cousins by virtue of having the same great-grandmother. “She didn’t have the opportunity to go to college, but she loved reading, music and theater.”
Sara Jane’s mother had lost touch with her cousin, but they reconnected in 2000 when a relative located Beverly in LA while researching the family’s history. It turned out that Sara Jane and her family lived just a mile away, and they soon “adopted” Beverly, who was divorced twice.
“We fell in love with her right away,” Sara Jane said. “She was the sort of person who gave you permission to do whatever you needed to do to feel good about yourself. She said, ‘I’m a 73-year-old, but I’m just a kid.’ ”
Sara Jane and her family – daughters Jorja, 17, and Rachel, 13, and husband Jay – soon were enjoying weekly dinners with Beverly. She accompanied the family to synagogue, traveled with them to the theater, and joined birthday and anniversary celebrations. Beverly grew especially close to Sara Jane’s daughters.
“I think she felt she hadn’t done so well with her (estranged) son and she was making up for it with my daughters,” Sara Jane said. “She was being the mother that she always wanted to be. This was her second chance with my girls.”
In 2005, Sara Jane and her family decided to move to Oklahoma to be near her husband’s extended family. She dreaded sharing the news with Beverly.
“I did not know how to tell her,” Sara Jane recalled. “I knew it would break her heart. When I finally told her, I asked whether she wanted to come with us. She chose to stay in LA. She took the news well, but I felt terrible.”
A few days later, Beverly suffered a debilitating stroke and was paralyzed on one side. She ended up moving with the Roses to Oklahoma, settling into an apartment down the street. Doctors expected Beverly to survive two years, but she lived for five. She died in November 2011.
“She was our Auntie Mame,” Sara Jane said. “She was such a personable, outgoing person with a real zest for life.”
See more information about planned giving at Brandeis.