Haverford Guides Principles and Nurtures Passions: Music, Medicine and More
Generations of his family attended Yale. So when it came time to choose a college, what did Roger Foster ’57 do? He chose Haverford. The way was paved, in part, by the fact that his mother taught at Bryn Mawr College, so he knew the Tri-Colleges. “I went to Swarthmore and was impressed,” Roger recalls. “Then I visited Haverford and was even more impressed.” But the head of Admission at the time, Archibald Macintosh, had his doubts. “I had to reassure him that I was actually interested.” Fortunately, Haverford accepted him and he enrolled. “My brother says I made a good decision.
He went to Yale,” laughs Roger. So began a new family legacy. Two of Roger’s four children (Roger ’84 and Charles ’86) went on to become Haverfordians.
Roger credits Haverford with establishing a firm grounding for his career path in academic medicine, with a specialty in surgery. He credits psychology professor Doug Heath in particular. “Doug thought it was inappropriate to challenge a scholarly idea until you’d worked hard enough to learn the data and hear out what the rationale was. Once you’d done that, you could weigh in with your own critiques, but they had to be informed critiques.” Roger says that Heath’s approach to inquiry, combined with his teaching of the scientific method, had an enormous impact on how he approached his education and, later, his career.
Outside of the classroom, Roger played the cello and has fond memories of singing in the Glee Club, led by Bill Reese. He also engaged in critical thinking around values that are at the core of Haverford’s community. “Haverford made me think about ethical issues,” he explains. “I don’t think it changed my moral compass very much—I got that from my parents and my grandparents—and it was not something I thought I had to change or rebel against. But I’d never thought much about it. So I began to examine some of the issues, hearing and watching classmates during the 1950s who were willing to be jailed as part of their conscientious objection. I questioned whether I should register or not and decided I was not as firm a pacifist as they were. I wasn’t prepared to take that position, but I respected their decision. That type of thinking about ethical, moral principles has recurred at various times in my career. It’s part of what I took away from Haverford.”
Roger attended medical school at Case Western Reserve University, did a surgical residency at University Hospitals of Cleveland, and held a postdoctoral fellowship at Roswell Park Memorial Institute. In 1970, he began his career in academic medicine as an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Vermont. He went on to become the director of the university’s Vermont Cancer Center until 1992. There he recruited an academic named Tom Tritton to his first administrative role to run the Cancer Center. That experience led Tritton to go into higher education administration. He subsequently became the 12th President of Haverford College.
During Roger’s years at the University of Vermont, his major clinical research interests led to advancements in breast cancer surgery and kidney transplants. He wrote more than 100 peerreviewed publications, co-edited six surgical books, and secured over $6 million dollars in research funding from the National Institutes of Health. Prior to retiring in 1999, Roger was a professor of surgery at Emory University and chief of surgical services at Emory’s Crawford Long Hospital.
One of the unexpected rewards of Roger’s surgical career was that it introduced him to his wife, Baiba Grube, also a surgeon, who trained in Vermont. (Roger’s first wife, Joan, passed away in 2000.) A graduate of New York University, Baiba had a very different college experience. She first came to know Haverford when she accompanied Roger to his 50th Reunion in 2007. “I met a lot of his classmates, who were all just wonderful people,” she explains. “The following day there were a number of different lectures and activities, which were outstanding. It is a very unique environment, and I was very happy to be able to see why Roger had really loved his time at Haverford.”
In addition to their appreciation for Haverford, Roger and Baiba stay active by hiking and climbing mountains the world over and by making music. Baiba is a pianist, and Roger has returned to the cello he played at Haverford. He studies with Dieuwke Davydov, wife of Sergey Davydov, who once taught Russian to Mawrtyrs and Fords. Roger is also president of the board of the Lake Champlain Chamber Music Festival.
The couple hopes to return to Haverford in May 2017 for Roger’s 60th Reunion. In the meantime, they have strengthened their ties to Haverford by establishing the Foster Family Scholarship Fund, made possible through a beneficiary designation of retirement assets. They chose to direct their gift to a scholarship because of Haverford’s commitment to access and affordability. They also are concerned about college debt being a burden that might impact a student’s career choice—a decision that should be about passion, not economics, according to Roger.
Baiba concurs. “I’m totally in support of Roger’s decision,” she says. “It’s a wonderful college. There’s such a continuity throughout life for people who have gone there and are happy to share their experiences even beyond the time that they’ve been at Haverford.”
The mechanics of making the gift through a beneficiary designation were as easy for Roger and Baiba as their decision to support Haverford in the first place: “I simply went online, checked a few boxes, wrote in ‘Haverford College,’ and that was it. It was done in minutes. It’s even easier than getting somebody to change your will.” He’s also considering tax-advantaged ways to make the gift during his lifetime, with the guidance of his financial advisor and Haverford’s Office of Gift Planning. Roger finds gratification in having established the Foster Family Scholarship Fund and in making a difference in perpetuity for Haverford students with financial need. The gift makes a difference now, too, since increasing endowment for financial aid is a priority of Lives That Speak: The Campaign for Haverford, which ends on June 30, 2017.
Nearly ten years ago, at his milestone 50th Reunion, Roger and Baiba purchased a framed copy of Isaac Sharpless’ famous quote from the 1888 Commencement address, “I suggest that you preach truth and do righteousness as you have been taught.” “I think that is one of the most powerful statements for an academic institution,” Baiba says, because it describes “the character of the school, its faculty, and its student body.” Roger couldn’t agree more. It exemplifies why he feels so connected to Haverford. And why he gives back. “My Haverford experience provided the guiding principles for my life and my career in surgery, research, teaching, and administration.”
To learn more about gift plans at Haverford, contact Olga Briker at 610-795-6079 or firstname.lastname@example.org.