An ‘incredible gift’: Late alum donates $80M to Deerfield Academy

  • Rodolfo “Rudi” Wachsman, a Deerfield Academy Class of 1953 alumnus, gave his alma mater $80 million following his death in January 2021. He is seen here with his longtime companion Laurie Dalton. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/DEERFIELD ACADEMY

Staff Writer
Friday, December 09, 2022

DEERFIELD — A former Deerfield Academy alumnus, who once called the school the center of his world, has given the largest donation in the school’s history.

Class of 1953 alum Rodolfo “Rudi” Wachsman, who was also a trustee of Deerfield Academy, donated $80 million to his alma mater, capping a lifetime of involvement with the private school. Wachsman died in January 2021 due to complications from COVID-19, according to Deerfield Academy.

Head of School John Austin said the academy is “incredibly grateful to Rudi, who just loved Deerfield to his very bones.”

“It’s really humbling for a school to receive a gift of this size, and really inspiring,” Austin said by phone late Monday afternoon. “We haven’t made any firm decisions on how we will use it at this point. … We have extensive international programming that we do, a long-standing and deep commitment to student access and financial aid; those are all things we will be looking at with this incredible gift.”

Deerfield Academy spokeswoman Jessica Day added that the school will be exploring “student-centric” initiatives because Wachsman was very focused on the student experience at the school.

“I am sure whatever winds up happening down the road,” Day said, “whatever it might be, it will definitely be something that’s student-centric.”

At his 50th class reunion, Wachsman said Deerfield Academy, despite his globe-trotting life, was the “center” of his world.

“The more I see and learn,” Wachsman said, according to the school’s announcement of the gift, “I realize what a privilege Deerfield was and is.”

In the school’s announcement, board of trustees President Leila Govi said Wachsman was the “very best example of the kind of deep, meaningful connections we want our students to have.”

“For those who knew Rudi all their lives or others who had just a handful of moments with him, he left deep, meaningful connections for us all,” Govi said. “This will be Rudi’s enduring legacy. We will always be grateful for his friendship, his service and for his most generous gift to the academy, which will enable us to launch new initiatives and fund existing programs for the next generation of Deerfield students.”

Spending his childhood in Mexico, Wachsman enrolled in Deerfield Academy as a junior in 1951. Following his graduation, he attended Princeton University for two years before finishing his education at the University of Virginia. From there, Wachsman built a successful business career and became the vice chair of the mass media company Televisa, while teaching at Mexico’s University of the Americas, according to Deerfield Academy’s announcement and a brief obituary in Princeton Alumni Weekly.

While the school works on long-term planning with this gift, it will be honoring Wachsman in the short term by naming the school’s athletic complex after him. As Wachsman was a varsity soccer, squash and tennis player who became a major supporter of the athletics complex when construction began in 2017, Deerfield Academy will officially dedicate “The Rodolfo E. Wachsman ’53 Athletics Complex” with a ceremony set for the spring.

Wachsman also previously showed his support for the arts at Deerfield Academy through his gift of the Elizabeth Wachsman Concert Hall, which was given in memory of his mother.

Austin said Wachsman was one of those people who was “larger than life.”

“He had a tremendous passion for life. … He just felt that Deerfield was an incredibly important part of his life and he wanted to recognize that,” Austin said.