June 1, 2018
It began organically. Syracuse University trustee Gerry Cramer, a highly successful New York City money manager, had developed an interest in aging. His wealthy clientele were growing older, and Cramer was increasingly attuned to issues of retirement security.
In the late 1980s, he was introduced to the dean of the Maxwell School, John Palmer. Maxwell was home to SU’s Gerontology Center, focused on scholarship related to aging, and Palmer himself was an expert on Social Security and Medicare. As a result of those conversations, Cramer funded a professorship in aging studies and provided program support that helped Gerontology evolve into today’s bigger, broader Aging Studies Institute.
Cramer’s support of aging studies was just the beginning. Over almost 30 years, Cramer, a graduate of SU’s management school, became Maxwell’s top donor, with giving of nearly $10 million. His philanthropy was often driven by his interest in a world problem or policy issue. He became an important advisor and friend to numerous deans and faculty members. He helped set goals and then trusted his money would be well applied.
Gerry Cramer died on February 13, and his passing was deeply felt. Those who knew and partnered with him, and benefited from his philanthropy, have spent the days since assessing the imprint he left on the School.
“It’s hard to imagine the Maxwell School today without the impact of Gerry Cramer,” says Dean David Van Slyke. “His generosity and especially his vision made possible entities that today we consider integral to Maxwell.”
Cramer’s interests were difficult to pigeonhole. After marrying his wife Daphna, a native of Israel, Cramer became increasingly interested in international affairs. He and Daphna funded two professorships in global affairs and graduate assistantships for MPA/IR students, and they made a major gift to support creation of Maxwell’s Global Affairs Institute. A few years later, they gave $1.5 million to support SU’s Institute for National Security and Counterterrorism (INSCT).
Those gifts were reflective of Cramer’s passion for making the world a better place and his ability to make connections. “He had a real vision for what he hoped the School could be,” says Mitchel Wallerstein ’72 MPA, dean of the School from 2003 to 2010 and now president of Baruch College. “He saw opportunities that perhaps others did not for Maxwell to move into new areas.” Cramer was also, Wallerstein says, “one of the world’s nicest human beings. He was warm and gracious and incredibly generous.”
Wallerstein and Cramer worked together closely during INSCT’s first few years, when it transitioned from an SU College of Law project to a multi-school, interdisciplinary initiative. A part-time resident of Israel, Cramer had developed a relationship with the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), a leading think tank in Herzliya. Cramer started making connections. He brought ICT founder Boaz Ganor to Maxwell to meet with Wallerstein. In the fall of 2005, INSCT and ICT entered into a partnership, intended to educate a new generation of leaders who would combat modern terrorism.
Cramer believed Middle East peace could only be attained through greater mutual understanding. Originally, he envisioned Palestinian and Israeli mayors convening at Maxwell — an idea that proved politically unfeasible. So he shifted his focus to students, funding an annual exchange program between SU and the Interdisciplinary Center at Herzliya.
“The best way for students to learn is to be on the ground in a different area,” said Cramer at the time. “For the Syracuse students, coming to Israel brings their school work to life. For the Israeli students, coming to the Maxwell School provides a crash course in American politics and public policy. They each leave with a better understanding of the respective countries that they couldn’t have gotten any other way.”
For Cramer, the investment was very personal, says Bill Banks, former, longtime faculty director of INSCT: “He was very well informed and attuned to the complexities of our work, and he worked hard at that, sitting through numerous tedious lectures of mine both in Syracuse and in Israel.”
Those student exchanges continue today. Each May, approximately 15 SU undergraduates travel to Israel for two weeks of study, culture, and sightseeing. Over the summer, SU graduate students with relevant research interests make the trip. Each fall, roughly 15 Israeli students come for a Maxwell-curated education in American politics and foreign policy.
Cramer graduated from Syracuse in 1952 with a degree in accounting. His attachment to the Maxwell School was purely intellectual. He often referred to himself as a “seed investor” in Maxwell School initiatives, preferring to support programs and people rather than bricks and mortar.
He was extremely strategic about how his gifts were made and spent. “He typically funded his gifts over a 10- or 15-year period, rather than in perpetuity, because he wanted to be able to see their impact during his lifetime,” says Palmer.
Cramer, whose investment firm managed some $12 billion in assets, also served on the SU Board of Trustees’ finance committee. He understood how endowment gifts worked and found ways to maximize his. “I can do better,” he told Palmer when making a $5-million commitment to support international initiatives. “We worked out an arrangement with the SU treasurer’s office and the money was invested in Cramer’s mutual fund,” says Palmer. “It was set up as a quasi-endowment so that, with a reasonable rate of return, it would be spent down over 15 years.” That way, more money was spent sooner and Cramer witnessed its effects. (Incidentally, the fund did so well it still exists, well past the anticipated 15-year lifespan.)
In all these and other ways, Gerry Cramer was the School’s dream supporter. It is fitting that, in 2004, when Maxwell created the Horizon Award to recognize exceptional voluntarism and philanthropy, Cramer was the inaugural recipient. It is doubly fitting that, earlier this year, the School renamed the award to honor Gerald and Daphna’s legacy of purposeful philanthropy. When it is next given, it will be known as the Gerald and Daphna Cramer Horizon Award.
The renaming formalizes Cramer’s legacy as one of the most important philanthropic supporters Maxwell has ever known, not just for the gifts but the ideas and involvement.
Cramer would tell you that he believed strongly in philanthropy, and that his mission in life was not “just to write checks,” but to give his soul and passion.
“One is muscle,” he said. “The other is blood.”
By Renée Gearhart Levy
This article appeared in the spring 2018 print edition of Maxwell Perspective © Maxwell School of Syracuse University.
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