Gelman benefactor dies at 83

Estelle Gelman, a former GW Board of Trustees member and the philanthropist behind Gelman Library’s renaming, died Friday at her home in D.C.

Gelman, 83, was born Feb. 25, 1926. She received an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from the Mount Vernon College and served on the GW Board of Trustees for 11 years. In 1980, she created the Gelman Library Fund in honor of her late husband, Melvin Gelman, for whom Gelman Library is named. The fund is used to purchase books, periodicals and other publications, according to Gelman Library’s Web site.

Recruited by former University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg in 1990, Gelman served on the board as a Charter Trustee until 2001, when she was elected as a Trustee Emerita.

Gelman was a generous philanthropist and the first female president of the American Cancer Society. She also served on the board of The Jewish Foundation for Group Homes, Israeli Bonds, the Jewish Social Service Agency, The United States Holocaust Museum and Iona House.

“Her husband was a prosperous businessman but, himself, not very philanthropic. When he died, she became a very wealthy widow, and she used the money to support organizations,” Trachtenberg said. “She would always say, ‘He would drop dead if he saw what I was doing with his money.’ “

Calling Gelman a “legacy” comparable to Princess Diana, Trachtenberg said the University was very grateful for her gift.

“It was more than the money she gave. She was really an inspirational character and a role model for other trustees,” he said.

Earlier this week, the Gelman Library Renovation Fund was selected as the recipient of money raised by the Senior Class Gift Committee, after 70 percent of participating seniors voted to give the money to the fund.

University President Steven Knapp said the University is mourning Gelman’s passing and is grateful for her generosity.

“All of us at The George Washington University mourn the passing of Trustee Emerita Estelle Gelman. The entire university has benefited greatly from her service and generosity, especially to the Gelman Library, which bears the name of her husband Melvin,” Knapp said in an e-mail. “She was not only a generous donor but an active participant in library events. I am very glad to see that this year’s graduating seniors are following her example by directing their class gift to the Gelman Library. Diane [Knapp] and I extend our sincere condolences to the Gelman family.”

Gelman is survived by two daughters, Elise Lefkowitz and Elaine Miller, her five grandchildren, her great-grandson and her sister, according to the paid obituary in The New York Times.

Services were held last Sunday at Adas Israel Congregation in D.C. Her family has requested contributions be made to either the Alzheimer’s Association or to Gelman Library.

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