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'Mr. UB' Peter Nickerson made $4.5 million bequest to medical school

Few faculty members were as devoted to the University at Buffalo as Peter A. Nickerson.

Nickerson taught in the medical school for nearly 50 years and immersed himself in the life of the university in leadership posts on the Faculty Senate and on a wide variety of UB and State University of New York committees.

He retired from UB in 2015 and died this past February. But Nickerson's devotion to the university will be felt for years to come.

University officials revealed this week that the former professor of pathology and anatomical sciences made a $4.5 million bequest to UB through a charitable trust.

A portion of the gift, $1.5 million, is to be used to create an endowed faculty position: the Peter A. Nickerson, PhD, Professor and Chair in the Department of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences. The rest will go towards a dean's fund in Nickerson's name in the Jacobs School of Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

The named position and fund must first be approved by the State University of New York Board of Trustees, but the medical school is planning to appoint Dr. John Tomaszewski, a SUNY distinguished professor, as the first Nickerson chair.

Dr. Peter A. Nickerson, veteran UB Medical School faculty member

Nickerson was known on campus for his dedication to students. For many years, he taught an honors undergraduate course entitled, "What They Died From."

"He would take students to places, shall we say, they never expected to go while living," said Claude Welch, SUNY distinguished professor emeritus and longtime colleague.

Welch attended the class and saw firsthand how Nickerson "made learning really fascinating" for students simply by listening to them.

Nickerson had no siblings and no children and was never married. Colleagues said his constant involvement in university activities stemmed from a deep affection for students and fellow faculty members. Nickerson spent many years as the chairman of the Faculty Senate, elected by his peers to multiple terms as the leading voice of the faculty in deliberations with administrators over academic and other university matters.

"He was Mr. UB. He spent all of his time, seven days a week, at the university. And he knew everybody," said Dr. Reid Heffner, a longtime friend and distinguished teaching professor in the same department. "UB was really his life, and I think (the gift) is his way of thanking UB for making his life seem meaningful. He loved every minute of it."

He died in Heathwood Assisted Living in Amherst on Feb. 2, a couple weeks shy of his 76th birthday.

UB officials were aware, prior to his death, of Nickerson's intention to make a gift to the university. But they had no idea about the size of the donation.

Nickerson earned a good living as a UB professor, and he was able to build up a large retirement nest egg through a modest lifestyle.  He lived for many years in a 1,200 square-foot home in a working-class Amherst neighborhood near UB's South Campus.

"He was very frugal, so you would not catch him splurging on any sort of excessive expenditure," said Heffner.

A native of Harwich, Mass., Nickerson inherited a home on Cape Cod, where real estate values are high. The house was modest, but whatever proceeds he received from selling it late in his life likely added to his retirement savings, which were invested primarily through Metropolitan Life, said Heffner, the executor of Nickerson's estate.

The large gift to the school was especially meaningful because it comes from a longtime member of the faculty, said Michael Cain, vice president of health sciences and dean of the medical school.

"Peter was revered by his students, many of whom stayed in touch with him long after leaving UB," Cain said in a statement. "This gift was his way of helping future students who he wouldn't have the pleasure of knowing."

The medical school has an ongoing fundraising campaign with a goal of $200 million. The Nickerson gift brings the total raised so far to $194 million, and school officials anticipate reaching the goal by the time the new medical school building opens in January.

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