‘Let’s Activate It’: Betty and Paul Mayer ’65 Jumpstart Their Gift to Amherst

Betty and Paul Mayer ’65 flipped the script. By 2016, they had estate plans neatly in place for the institutions they feel most connected to, Amherst College among them. Then, last fall, they made a bold choice.

Betty and Paul Mayer, Class of 1965, together in a gymnasium.
“The students need funding,” said Paul, “so we said, ‘Let’s activate it. Let’s make it happen now.’” They transformed their bequest to establish the Paul J. Mayer, M.D. 1965 and Elizabeth F. Mayer Scholarship Fund into an outright and immediate gift to the College.

Two Amherst figures were key to their decision: Joe Trapani, chair and associate professor of biology, and Bill Stekl, head rowing coach. Betty and Paul knew Professor Trapani from their support for the biology department, and he invited them to a presentation about the STEM Incubator, a cohort program to train rising first-years who are underrepresented in STEM disciplines, including Black, Latinx, Indigenous, first-generation and low-income students. “I was just amazed at the work these students were doing,” said Paul, “and it’s part of how I became aware of the support that students need now.”

Another source of inspiration was Coach Stekl’s annual letter to supporters of Amherst’s rowing program. “He coaches men’s crew, but really he’s teaching students the skills to navigate life,” said Paul. He and Betty were impressed by the commitment of both Coach Stekl and Professor Trapani to building programs that make the resources of the College available to more of the student body. “They personify the forward-thinking and student-first attitude of the evolving Amherst,” said Paul. “It was their enthusiasm and excitement that motivated us to elevate our scholarship from an estate gift into today’s active plans.”

The Paul J. Mayer, M.D. 1965 and Elizabeth F. Mayer Scholarship Fund is an endowed fund that will provide financial aid to Amherst students with demonstrated need in perpetuity. Paul came to the College from a public school in a blue-collar neighborhood in Queens. “In my day, I could earn half of my tuition, room and board in one summer,” Paul says. He knows that times have changed, and he considers financial aid to be a wise and joyful investment in the future: “What could be better than to support the education of people who need it and are going to use it? When I look at what Amherst graduates do, I’m blown away.”

For Paul and Betty, their scholarship fund is also a way of acknowledging the importance of their own liberal arts educations. Paul credits Amherst as the place where he learned to think critically and “learned to learn,” which led to a lifetime of learning in medicine. Betty had been a nurse for decades when, at age 50, she enrolled at the University of Vermont and earned her B.A. in art. Their explorations in the liberal arts remain key to their day-to-day happiness: “Amherst opened my mind to a lot of things I would never have been interested in because I wouldn’t have been exposed to them,” said Paul. “Now, we can’t get enough music. We love sports. We love literature and everything that goes along with it. The sky is bluer and the birds sing brighter because of the understanding we gained as students in the liberal arts.”

Paul and Betty are delighted to be able to make such a meaningful education possible for students now and in the future, and are gratified at the Amherst they see and know today. “The things Biddy has done for Amherst are transformative and a long time in coming,” said Paul. “The College is on the right track and is doing the right thing. We couldn’t be prouder to support Amherst.”