A Madisonian through and through, E. Richard Stiehm ’54, MD’57 grew up in Badger territory, not far from Camp Randall. His father, Reuben Stiehm, was in the inaugural intern class at Wisconsin General, the first UW-affiliated hospital, and his mother, Marie Stiehm ’28, graduated from the UW School of Nursing.
Reuben’s death when Richard was just 10 years old was difficult for their family. Marie worked hard, continuing her career as head nurse at the UW Hospital and Clinics (now UW Health) while raising their four children on her own. Richard attended West High School, where Judith Hicks ’57 was also a student. He lived near her family during his childhood, but the two wouldn’t formally meet until years later. Richard had Badger blood in his veins and limited funding, so attending the UW made the most sense for him.
Judith’s parents and both of her siblings were also Badgers, but her college journey began at Oberlin. After her freshman year, however, Judith ultimately transferred to UW–Madison to focus her sights on East Asian studies. She and Richard finally met on campus. “We had played tennis on the same courts in high school, but we didn’t actually get to know each other until college, when he called me out of the blue and asked me on a date,” shares Judith.
At the beginning of each semester, Richard worked at the University Book Store to help make ends meet. His first brush with philanthropy came when he was a premed undergraduate — an adviser saw his promise and recommended that Richard apply for a scholarship to help ease the financial burden. “It was a gift from heaven,” Richard notes. And the remarkable impact of that support remains with him to this day.
Richard and Judith made numerous moves throughout their respective careers. After Richard graduated from the UW School of Medicine and Public Health in 1957, his uncle bought him four used tires for his old Plymouth, allowing him to make the trek to Philadelphia for an internship, and soon after, he and Judith married. Following graduation from UW–Madison, Judith studied at Temple University for her master’s degree in American history in 1961, and in 1969, she earned her doctorate in political theory from Columbia University.
After Philadelphia, the newlyweds returned to Madison for Richard’s graduate work in the lab of Harold Deutsch ’40, PhD’44, focusing on protein chemistry and coauthoring two papers that put him in good stead when he applied for a residency at the New York-Presbyterian Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. It was there that he ultimately discovered his passion for pediatric immunological research. His next opportunity took him to the University of California–San Francisco, where he spent two years as an immunology fellow.
UW Roots Run Deep
The couple made their way back to Wisconsin once again in 1965, when Richard was recruited to be an assistant professor in the UW Department of Pediatrics. But in 1969, the Stiehms made the difficult decision to return to California, seeking relief from Judith’s allergies and asthma. And their success continued. Richard was named chief of the Pediatric Immunology and Allergy Division at UCLA, and shortly after arriving, he performed the West Coast’s first bone marrow transplant on an infant with combined immunodeficiency. While Richard’s career at UCLA grew, Judith became a professor of political science in 1970 at the University of Southern California and also served as vice provost and head of the women’s studies program. In 1987, she was named the first female provost of Florida International University in Miami, where she’s now professor emerita of political science.
Amid their many adventures and cross-country moves, the Stiehms built a family together, including three daughters — Jamie is a political columnist in DC, Carrie is a teacher in Los Angeles, and Meredith is a screenwriter in Santa Monica. With successful careers and their adult children experiencing their own triumphs, Richard and Judith began planning for their future philanthropic goals.
“The university has been good to us,” Richard shares. “We both received an excellent education, and my time as a visiting professor only solidified my love for the UW. We established an endowed chair in political science in Judith’s name, and we are also planning to endow a second chair to strengthen the UW’s faculty in the Division of Allergy, Immunology, and Rheumatology for the Department of Pediatrics.”
Throughout their lives, the Stiehms have lived on both coasts and traveled to nearly 100 countries, but despite their many wanderings, they remain deeply connected to Madison and to the university. Now retired, Richard is a visiting professor of pediatrics for one month each summer, and Judith, an award-winning author, serves on the UW’s Political Science Advisory Board and received a Distinguished Alumni Award in 2006. They view their philanthropic commitments with assurance and pride.
“An endowed gift to the UW will be rewarded severalfold,” says Richard. “It will be wisely spent and allow this fine university to compete with Ivy League schools for great professors, promising students, and breakthrough medical research accomplishments.”