For her first Thanksgiving in Seattle, Andrea B. “Bunny” Williams and her family were invited to the house of Edward and Katherine Turner. Edward Turner was the first dean of the UW School of Medicine; Robert H. Williams, Bunny’s husband, the first chair of the Department of Medicine.
Needless to say, the Williams family wanted to make a good impression. Except for the Williams boys, then 3 and 5. They clattered up and down the Turners’ stairs with great gusto.
“I was horrified,” says Bunny Williams. But kids being kids didn’t bother the Turners at all. Nor did it affect the working relationship between the adults.
In the early years of the UW School of Medicine, says Williams, everyone knew each other, and everyone pulled together to strengthen the institution — to recruit other faculty, to establish a building for the School, and, eventually, to build UW Medical Center. The spouses of new faculty members, who came together to create the Medical Faculty Wives in 1949, were an important part of this team.
Today, this group — now celebrating its 60th anniversary — is known as the Friends of the University of Washington School of Medicine. The Friends count among their members not only faculty spouses, but also current, emeritus, and retired faculty and staff and spouses; they’re recruiting members of the community, too. And the group, throughout its many years of service, has had a long history of helping the School of Medicine and its students.
When Bunny and Robert Williams moved to Seattle in 1948, the School had been open only two years. The Department of Medicine, remembers Williams, was housed in the basement of the architecture building. Many of the School’s newer faculty members (the ones with children) were settled in a former Army barracks in Laurelhurst that had been converted into a housing project. There they became acquainted with one another and with other UW faculty.
“Everybody around you was new,” says Williams. Newness created camaraderie among the wives, and, at Katherine Turner’s suggestion, the women formed the Medical Faculty Wives group. They put on parties and helped their husbands recruit new faculty members to UW Medicine.
“Gradually, as it went on,” says Williams, “that was not enough to satisfy people.” So the group added new kinds of events: hosting dinners for first-year medical students, for instance, or holding receptions for students and families before the hooding ceremony. They also raised money for students: for emergency funds, for small loans, for scholarships. Anything that would help students make it through medical school.
Although many of these social functions have been taken on by the School of Medicine, the Friends, notes President Elspeth Ferguson, still have a strong commitment to student education. The group has provided more than 350 emergency loans, has given out scholarships to more than 50 students, and has supported several health and wellness program, as well as the Community Health Advancement Program — a community-service project for students interested in working with medically underserved populations. “We’re really trying to keep it true to what the founders wanted,” says Ferguson.
Each fall, Ferguson, Williams, and other members of the Friends hear from some of the scholarship students, who write thank-you letters to scholarship donors. “These kids are really amazing,” says Williams. “They’re very dedicated and they seem very grateful to get the help.”
As a member of the Friends for six decades, Bunny Williams remembers the group’s initial years with great fondness. But she also looks forward to what the group and its financial support can do for future generations of medical students. “It’s reassuring that what we’re doing is worthwhile,” says Williams.
With increased outreach efforts and continuing generosity from its members, Ferguson thinks the legacy of the Friends will continue. And she encourages everyone interested in the School of Medicine to join. “I hope that more people will become aware of the Friends and appreciate its niche,” she says.