Dr. Augustus John Rush Jr., PS ’68 & Dee Rush Esq.

Dr. Augustus John Rush Jr., PS ’68 & Dee Rush Esq.

World-Renowned Psychiatrist and Attorney

January 24, 2020
Dr. Augustus John Rush Jr. & Dee Rush Esq.

Augustus John Rush Jr., MD, PS ’68, is a world-renowned psychiatrist. As Professor Emeritus at Duke-NUS Medical School at the National University of Singapore and Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine, he has authored and edited more than 10 books, and over 800 scientific journal articles focused on the diagnosis and treatment of depressive and bipolar disorders. A few years ago, Dr. Rush and his wife, Dee Rush, an attorney, chose to give to the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S) to support scholarships and to establish a charitable gift annuity.

When asked about his favorite memories of P&S and his motivation for giving, Dr. Rush got right to the point: “I think that you give for the future. You don’t give because you had a nice professor. We had some tough characters and some compassionate people. In my class and for the 10 prior classes that we examined, we counted exactly 12 of 120 entering students were women. We went to the dean and said ‘the quota has to stop.’ This was the spring of 1965. We said, ‘You’re missing out on really good people.’ It was not about identity politics—it was about missing out on great people. You just want to go after talent.”

Dr. Rush went on to explain: “Shortly thereafter the quota disappeared. We were just reflecting what was part of the times. We didn’t change Columbia—we were part of the society that was changing.”

On his motivation for giving back to VP&S, Dr. Rush said, “Dee and I make donations because we want to see a future where people don’t have to choose a specialty in order to make money. We try to do impact donations. I love medicine and I think it’s going through a disconcerting disruption. When there is a challenge, there is an opportunity. You give innovative people the chance to be the best they can be in any area of medicine. I don’t think we should try to direct what people should do with donations, we should create opportunity.”

Mrs. Rush chimed in on the need to support scholarships, “We were both raised in middle-class families. My family paid for my education through law school. No one talked about debt when we went to college. No one talked about how much money they made. They wanted you to go to school to make a difference. Now we’ve been able to provide for our own. My parents gave me a debt-free education, and we should give our kids the same. No one in a middle-class family now could send their children to a medical school without incurring debt. We have a son who went to medical school, he talked about how most of his friends were on loans. They talked about how they picked specialties based on how quickly they could pay off loans. And that was disconcerting.”

Mrs. Rush also added, “I knew a couple, a doctor and lawyer and they had a combined debt of $450,000 and that’s pretty much average. When you have that kind of debt, you’re going to have to make decisions based on that.” She also said, “When you’re in a position to give back you should because you can.”

A view of the front entrance to VP&S
The Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons (VP&S)

In 2011, Dr. and Mrs. Rush decided to go forward with a charitable gift annuity that will establish a scholarship fund for students at VP&S between the donor and Columbia. In exchange for a gift of $25,000 or more, Columbia makes lifetime payments to the named beneficiary or beneficiaries of the donor’s choosing. The remainder will then pass to the area or program at Columbia of the donor’s choice. For example, at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, Dr. and Mrs. Rush established a charitable gift annuity that will pay them income for life, with the remainder going to the John and Dee Rush Scholarship Fund.

Mrs. Rush described the moment when they were inspired to give, “I remember sitting in the auditorium for the reunion, and they were talking about the gift annuity. We had never talked about it, but when we heard about it, we talked and said that’s something we could do. And because we were in our early fifties at the time—the annuity appealed to us.”

Dr. Rush, who served on his VP&S 50th-anniversary committee, added more context about what attracted him to the charitable gift annuity: “We are accomplishing our goal of helping Columbia and getting the government to partner with us.”

Soon after establishing the charitable gift annuity, Dr. and Mrs. Rush also contributed to the P&S 250th Scholarship Challenge so that their generous contribution could be matched. About the match giving initiative for the Legacy Challenge, Dr. Rush said, “it’s a nice way to induce people who are on the edge of donating.” You can see it’s making a difference and you feel appreciated. We believe that to whom a lot is given, a lot is expected. We have a responsibility to the next generation. That’s the future orientation that is so important. I’m not governed by the past. You can’t change history, but you can make history by supporting future talent.”


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