The Wolff Family Fund

Est. 2022 by Eric and Deborah Wolff

Dr. Margaret Lieb
Dr. Margaret Lieb was a pioneering genetic researcher at a time when few women were in the field. Her charitable actions inspired her nephew and his family to follow her example and start a donor advised fund.

Throughout her life, Margaret Lieb – “Aunt Peggy” as she was affectionately known to her nephew Eric Wolff – was busy blazing trails as a geneticist at a time when few women were working in the field.

“She was doing her postdoctoral work in James Watson’s Lab when Watson and Francis Crick were publishing their big paper on the double helix,” said Wolff, referring to the discovery of the structure of DNA.

“She wasn’t on that paper but that was the level at which she was working, and she did very important work throughout her career,” he said.

Dr. Lieb was a researcher and professor at the University of Southern California, where she worked for 45 years. During her career, she served in other roles in the genetic biology program at the National Science Foundation and was a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

“She was very dedicated to her research and traveled the world giving papers,” Wolff said. “She made her way as a woman in science at a time when she was also fighting misogynistic headwinds.”

Eric and his aunt talked together often about that and about causes that they cared about such as fighting homelessness and supporting education. “She was interested in progressive causes,” he said. “It wasn’t politics but society that was her thing. She had a real sense of civic responsibility, which is certainly how I grew up.”

“She was somebody who never married, and she lived very frugally,” he said. When she passed away in 2018, Wolff said, she left a considerable amount of money to Los Angeles organizations that worked on behalf of homeless people and to other causes she cared about.

“I was taken by that,” he said. “She was a really important influence in my life, and I wanted to take her lead, as did my wife, Deborah, and our daughter, Simone.”

So, with an inheritance from her, Eric, Deborah, and Simone chose to create the Wolff Family Fund as a donor advised fund at the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven to support programs that provide resources to homeless and LGBTQ+ youth.

Eric Wolff grew up in an activist family. His father, whose entire immediate family was killed in the Holocaust, survived because people hid him through an underground network.

Wolff’s father and mother raised him and his sisters in the Society for Ethical Culture, an international humanist organization founded in the 1876 that established the nation’s first visiting nurse organization and the first free kindergarten. It also worked to improve tenement houses and took an active role in the Civil Rights movement. His parents explored faiths of all kinds and, as a boy, he attended mosques, temples, churches, and Zendōs. At Sunday school in the Ethical Culture Society, Wolff met Martin Luther King Jr.

Eric and Deborah Wolff
Eric and Deborah Wolff

Wolff is an ordained interfaith minister who worked in organizational development and leadership training and as a psychotherapist for 30 years. He has also worked in concert lighting design and now owns his own home inspection company. Deborah was a sweater designer for years and now owns her own organic baby blanket company. Simone is a New York City-based poet and activist in LGBTQ+ issues.

They chose to work with The Community Foundation for Greater New Haven after talking with staff members and discovering that with a “relatively small amount of money we could begin to create an income stream that we could donate,’ he said. “The moment I heard about that, I knew it was what we would want to do.”

“We want to support organizations that work with at-risk teens in Connecticut,” he said, adding that he thinks Aunt Peggy would be very much in favor of that choice. “She was the impetus for us starting this fund to carry on what she did – contributing to our community.”

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The Wolff Family Fund