The late Peter Ayers Nickerson, a beloved UB faculty member who spent nearly 50 years teaching in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, has given $4.5 million to the school through a bequest in his will.
Nickerson’s gift will endow a faculty position, the Peter A. Nickerson, PhD, Professor and Chair in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences, where he taught for nearly 50 years. John E. Tomaszewski, SUNY Distinguished Professor, has been named the first Nickerson chair. The remaining gift will create the Peter A. Nickerson, PhD, Dean’s Fund at the Jacobs School, which will ensure the academic priorities Nickerson held dear are funded for years to come.
Nickerson’s generosity did not surprise any who knew him. To Nickerson, teaching was not just a job; it was his life’s passion.
“Peter gave so much of himself to the university during his lifetime, and his legacy at UB will truly be cemented through this transformational gift,” notes Wendy Irving, associate vice president for planned giving. “His students and his academic work were so important to him, and now these priorities will continue to benefit from his generosity.”
“Peter was revered by his students, many of whom stayed in touch with him long after leaving UB,” says Michael Cain, former vice president for health sciences and dean of the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
“His legacy of love for education and serving his students will live on through the department chair and dean’s fund named for him. This gift was his way of helping future students who he wouldn’t have the pleasure of knowing.”
“This love for UB, the campus, the faculty, the students, the academic life was to define Peter as time went on. He was Mr. UB,” says Reid Heffner, SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor Emeritus of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences.
The UB community held a memorial celebration of Nickerson after his death in 2017 at the age of 75. Several of his fellow faculty members and staff colleagues spoke about his many accomplishments during his career. As Heffner puts it, “Peter was head of practically everything,” in his department and throughout UB.
Primarily, Nickerson will be remembered by those who knew him for his kindness and love of teaching. He ran a student-centered classroom in which students researched and taught topics to each other under his guidance. Students also talk about his popular undergraduate honors seminar—called “What Did They Die From?”—that studied disease by delving into the biographies and deaths of famous people. Perhaps most of all, they remember the snacks Nickerson would bring to evening seminars, guaranteeing none of them went hungry while in class over the dinner hour.
And with his final act of extraordinary generosity, he will be remembered for generations by the institution he cherished.