Connections Lead to Honoring, Giving Back and an Endowed Chair
“We saw it as a way of giving back and supporting the Jewish experience.”
— Cindy Edelman
For Cynthia “Cindy” Greener Edelman, BA’74, her Vanderbilt experience provided a good education and special connections.
Cindy and a roommate spent the summer between junior and senior years helping with freshman orientation. They decided to learn to cook and planned elaborate meals for interesting guests.
“We invited everybody from Chancellor (Alexander) Heard to the provost to our favorite political science professor. That was one of the most fun summers of our lives,” she recalls. “We were having the full experience of getting to know special people. They didn’t seem to mind that it was a meal cooked in Carmichael Towers.”
Special connections to the university have kept her involved with Vanderbilt in the years since. Along the way, Cindy and her husband, Dan, developed an interest in Jewish studies at the university and supported the then-under-construction Ben Schulman Center for Jewish Life. In 2005, they decided to endow a chair in Jewish studies and name it for Cindy’s attorney father, Eugene Greener Jr., BA’42.
“We saw it as a way of giving back and supporting the Jewish experience,” Cindy says. “We recognize the importance and value of learning. We saw—and certainly Vanderbilt pointed that out to us, they recognized—a need for this chair.”
Endowed chairs are a centuries-old tradition in higher education, signifying that the holder leads in scholarly achievement, distinction, discovery, and teaching. They also assist universities in attracting and retaining outstanding faculty. An endowed chair or professorship links exceptional accomplishment with the name of the chair, creating a lasting legacy for the donor or honoree.
“It was something that struck a chord with us,” Cindy says. “We saw it as a way of honoring our father.” The chair had not yet been established when another connection occurred.
David Wasserstein, a noted expert in medieval Islamic and Jewish topics, moved to Vanderbilt as a professor. Cindy thought that, with his scholarly interests, he and her father should meet each other. The family was getting together for Thanksgiving and planned to tell Eugene Greener of the chair his children were establishing in his name. Since the British-raised Wasserstein had never celebrated an American Thanksgiving, Cindy’s sister, Patrice “Patty” Greener Marks, BA’76, invited him to the Thanksgiving meal at her Nashville home.
“You never knew whether they would hit it off in their conversation or not at all. Mr. Greener was the type that if he liked you, he’d let you know, and if he didn’t, he probably let you know that too,” Dan says.
At the Thanksgiving celebration, Greener and Wasserstein holed up in a separate room to talk. “They’re similar. My father had a very outstanding academic career at Vanderbilt and went to Harvard Law,” Cindy says. “They really had a connection, which was so nice to see.”
Their meeting was poignant because Greener suffered a stroke the next year and died before the chair was officially established. On the very day Greener passed away, Wasserstein received official notice that he had been named the Eugene Greener Jr. Professor of Jewish Studies.
“When Dad passed away, the funeral was in Memphis, but they hadn’t lived there in a long time. So at the funeral, most of the people who were there were family friends and people from the legal community and I didn’t really know all the people who had come,” Cindy says. “I looked up and saw this face that looked familiar to me. I assumed it was one of Dad’s lawyer friends. I went up to speak to the gentleman. It was David Wasserstein, who had driven in to attend Dad’s funeral. I was so touched by that gesture.”
Wasserstein followed with a note that talked of the deep impression that meeting Greener had had on him, leaving the scholar “with the feeling that I had met a perfect example both of what made this country great and of how and why Jews have been so successful here. Hard work; modesty; love of family; devotion to tradition, country and people; and more, all were visible in him,” Wasserstein wrote. “His reaction when you told him about the chair here at Vanderbilt spoke volumes about him and makes me all the prouder to be the first holder of a chair that bears his name.”
Family Connection Continues On
It was her father’s connection to Vanderbilt that drew Cindy to begin with. A proud alumnus, Greener made sure his daughters were introduced to the interesting people that he met through the university. A family vacation centered on his trip to his 25th reunion, and his three daughters visited the campus. “I always wanted to go there, but there was no pressure from him that loomed over us,” Cindy recalls. Whatever he did worked. Cindy and Patty both graduated from Vanderbilt.
Through the years and in many ways, Cindy has continued her father’s role as supporter of Vanderbilt. She enthusiastically promotes her own Vanderbilt experience in her career as an art history teacher at The Bolles School in Jacksonville, Fla. While she was unable to persuade her two daughters to attend Vanderbilt, stepson Zachary “saw the light” and will be a freshman in the College of Arts and Science in the fall.
Cindy often thinks back to that Thanksgiving meal, and how significant it was that her father and the scholar who would one day hold the chair named for him were able to get to know each other. “It was marvelous that they got to meet,” she says, noting that the Eugene Greener Jr. Chair in Jewish Studies will always connect her family to the university. In endowing it, she says, “We felt as though that would be an important investment in the future of Vanderbilt as a family.”
Photo by Rusty Russell.