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Judith and Milton Viorst are a special Rutgers couple. They met as students, and both have gone on to have illustrious careers as writers.
Judith (NCAS ’52) is an acclaimed author whose 17 adult works and 19 children’s books include the classic Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day, which was recently turned into a major motion picture starring Steve Carell and Jennifer Garner. She is also the author of The New York Times best-seller Necessary Losses. For 25 years she was a contributing editor at Redbook magazine and has written the books and lyrics for three musicals.
Milton (SAS ’51) is a well-known journalist who eventually specialized in Middle East policy, writing six books on the subject. From 1956 to 1993, he contributed to The New Yorker, Foreign Affairs, Harper’s, Atlantic, The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, and the Wall Street Journal. He also taught journalism at Princeton and is a member of numerous professional associations like PEN, the National Writers Union, the Council of Foreign Relations, and also the Middle East Institute as a senior scholar.
For both Judith and Milton, who live in Washington, D.C., and celebrated their 54th wedding anniversary this year, the seeds of their success germinated at Rutgers: for Judith, on the Newark campus, and for Milton, in New Brunswick. And while they are a high-profile couple with a gaggle of grandchildren and demanding schedules, they have never forgotten their roots.
The Viorsts, who both majored in history as undergraduates, have been steady supporters of Rutgers for decades, giving to an array of scholarship and annual funds. Milton has done so despite having advanced degrees from (and commitments to) two Ivy League universities. As a couple, they have remained loyal to their alma-mater while giving to a constellation of other causes.
In 2011, the Viorsts deepened their commitment to Rutgers with two planned gifts: $25K Charitable Gift Annuities (CGAs) to both the NCAS Academic Excellence fund in Newark and the SAS Academic Excellence fund in New Brunswick.
CGAs allow donors to make a meaningful gift to NCAS while retaining income for themselves and/or loved ones. They are one of many types of life-income gifts that fall under the category of planned giving—and one of the most popular.
The Viorsts also have given their time and expertise along the way, with visits to both campuses to speak with classes, greet faculty, and attend readings and lectures. Judith has spent time with undergraduates in the English program, as well as graduate students in the MFA in Creative Writing Program, both on the Newark campus. Milton has spoken to students at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies in New Brunswick.
When the couple returned to Rutgers-Newark for a visit in 2009—the first in many years—they were floored.
“The campus has changed so much, it’s unrecognizable from when I went there—in a very good way,” says Judith. “The grounds, the buildings, the cafeteria feeding students from so many different ethnic groups now. The diversity is amazing, and the MFA Program in Creative Writing is just terrific. The faculty. The students. I was stunned and thrilled to be back.”
They welcome the opportunity to the visit the Newark campus again, with Judith possibly visiting more MFA classes, and Milton perhaps speaking with graduate students in the Division of Global Affairs.
Milton also plans to donate part of his vast collection of books on the Middle East and French history to the Rutgers University library system, and Judith may follow suit by donating part of her collection as well.
“We’re choosing to give our collections to Rutgers over my other alma-maters [Harvard and Columbia] in part because, as a state school, it could probably use them more than large private universities, and it reaches out to less fortunate kids in N.J.,” says Milton. “I really appreciate that.”
Milton has also pledged to put Rutgers in his will. As for their feelings about their undergraduate experience and what has inspired them to give back, Judith sums it up best.
“Rutgers was the beginning of my intellectual life. I had wonderful professors there at a time when I was hungry and eager for knowledge,” she says. “It’s powerful to have been set on a path that’s led to this moment. I owe so much to Rutgers and NCAS.”