Bertram J. Askwith (AB ’31) of New York City, a longtime friend to the University of Michigan, died on June 1. He was 104. Affectionately known around campus as simply Bert, Askwith provided generous support in multiple areas at U-M.
Askwith was born on March 2, 1911, in Battle Creek, Michigan. Enrolled at U-M as an economics student with a minor in journalism, he served as an editor of the student newspaper The Michigan Daily. Because of a strike by the New York Central Railroad in the fall of 1928, Askwith and a number of classmates who relied on the train for transport home found themselves stranded on campus. In a flash of solution-oriented innovation, Askwith rented a bus and sold tickets for the ride. With that, Askwith’s business, Campus Coach Lines, began. Initially housed in the Michigan Union, the business covered Askwith’s U-M costs during the Great Depression and set him on a lifelong professional path. Though he shifted his business to New York City after graduation, he has never forgotten its humble beginnings.
“I feel like Michigan gave me a lot,” Askwith has been quoted as saying. “They gave me a great start in life. The least I could do is show some gratitude.”
And so he has. Askwith served as vice chair of the university’s Michigan Difference Campaign (2000–2008). During this time, inspired by his grandson—who lives with a severe food allergy—he created the Askwith Fund for Innovation in Asthma and Allergy Management in the Center for Managing Chronic Disease at the U-M School of Public Health. The fund provides flexible resources to create and test innovative solutions to asthma and allergy management. Askwith went on to make additional contributions in this area, including significant contributions in 2014 and 2015 to establish the Askwith Food Allergy Fund at the U-M Food Allergy Center.
Askwith had an enormous impact on U-M’s Knight-Wallace Fellows program for midcareer journalists. In addition to a significant gift supporting the fellows, he helped establish the program’s Benny Friedman Fellowship in Sports. Friedman is hailed by some as “the greatest football player ever” and is credited with “perfecting” the forward pass. He was the first Jewish captain of a major college squad, and Askwith created the fellowship in Friedman’s name to ensure that his accomplishments would be remembered.
Reflecting his journalism background, Askwith was also a generous supporter of the Livingston Awards for Young Journalists, administered by the U-M to honor outstanding achievement by professionals under the age of 35 in local, national, and international reporting. His gift will further build upon U-M’s journalistic “ecosystem,” which includes the Knight-Wallace fellowships, the Livingston Awards, and student journalists at The Michigan Daily.
He created the Mary Sue Coleman Endowed Fund for the Raoul Wallenberg Fellowship to support future generations of Michigan students who are inspired by Wallenberg’s legacy and to honor former U-M president Mary Sue Coleman’s leadership during her tenure at Michigan. Wallenberg earned a U-M degree in architecture in 1935 and went on to become a Swedish diplomat; he is credited with saving 100,000 lives during the Holocaust. The fellowship in his name is presented to a graduating senior who demonstrates exceptional promise, character, accomplishment, and capacity for public service; it supports them in carrying out an independent project anywhere in the world the year after graduation.
Many of Askwith’s gifts have supported opportunities for engaged learning and an enhanced quality of life for students. Knowing the importance of spaces on campus where students can casually collaborate, relax, and study, Askwith helped create multiple spaces for those purposes in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library, including Bert’s Café, the Askwith Media Library, and Bert’s Study Lounge.
Askwith firmly believed that each student at Michigan should have the opportunity to experience the rich array of cultural events that the University Musical Society (UMS) brings to campus from all over the world. His support for UMS provides first-year and new transfer students one free “Bert’s Ticket” to a UMS event of their choice. He recently expanded the program to extend the same opportunity to second-year students and make possible a $10 ticket so that all students participating in the program can affordably bring a guest.
In support of the Michigan in Washington program—providing U-M students the opportunity to live and work for a semester in the nation’s capital—Askwith contributed generously to the Edie N. Goldenberg Endowed Directorship Fund in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.
An original thinker, Bert Askwith brought creative ideas and enormous energy to his work with the university, whether he was finding a way for students to get home from campus in 1928 or figuring out how to extend the legacy of great U-M alumni, such as Benny Friedman and Raoul Wallenberg, into the 21st century and beyond. His impact will be felt for generations to come.
Originally published by the University of Michigan Office of Development.