Louis B. Flexner, M.D., former chair of Penn’s
Department of Anatomy, became a world leader
in the study of memory. He never forgot the generosity
that allowed him to pursue a career in medicine.
Arthur K. Asbury, a longtime friend and an emeritus professor
of neurology, says of Flexner, “He was interested in helping
just as he’d been helped.”
Dr. Flexner’s benefactors were his
famous uncles, Drs. Simon and Abraham Flexner. After
four decades at Penn, Dr. Flexner and his wife, Josefa B.G. Flexner,
Ph.D., made sure that their relationship with the School of
Medicine would not end with their deaths: they left generous
charitable remainder trusts and a substantial bequest
to fund scholarship support.
Early on, Louis demonstrated an interest in health care.
At age 7, he won a writing contest on “How I Intend to
Earn My Living,” detailing his plan to cure leprosy. He
earned both his undergraduate degree and his medical
degree with financial help from his uncles. Josefa, a native
of Spain, earned her doctorate in pharmacy in Madrid and
won a scholarship to study at Johns Hopkins in 1930,
where she met Louis. The two were married in 1938.
In 1951, Louis came to Penn as chair of the Department of Anatomy. Soon
afterward, he founded the Institute for Neurological Sciences,
now the David Mahoney Institute. As a research
associate in the Institute, Josefa worked alongside Louis
at every point. “She made it all work,” Asbury says. “She
was the detail person.”
The couple lived frugally. “They saved their money,
knowing it would go to create this endowment for medical
education,” says Asbury. They were generous with
their time and talent, continuing to work, teach and publish
without pay for nearly 25 years past the mandatory
retirement age. Louis died in 1996 at 94; Josefa died in
2000 at 97.
Years before her death, Josefa was quoted in a Penn
publication expressing a sentiment that seems to sum up
their mutual love of medicine: “We must use our imagination
to spend that time between birth and death to do
the thing that is most satisfying for us, and, if possible, to
give satisfaction to the people around us.” The Flexners’s charitable remainder unitrusts and their sizable bequest are among the many creative gift opportunities that can benefit both the School of Medicine and its donors.