Martha Karsh '81

The Last Word

Martha Karsh ’81 (COL ’78), co-chair of the UVA capital campaign, describes herself as a “philanthropist, attorney, designer, mom and grandparent.” Illustration by Alex Fine

‘Honor the Future’ Campaign Co-Chair and Education Philanthropist Martha Karsh ’81 Explains Why She Gives Back

What do you want people to know about UVA’s Honor the Future campaign?

The University of Virginia, dedicated to higher education as a public good, stands strong today on past champions’ shoulders. As supporters and stewards, we must ensure that the University thrives into its third century as both “great and good,” embracing the nation’s highest values, a flourishing and diverse “academical village,” and its role as global citizen.

You and your husband, Bruce Karsh, have given generously to worthy causes. Why is supporting higher education close to your heart?

Raised in modest homes and beneficiaries of excellent K-12 public school educations, we received solid starts that led us to fine universities. We met and married as Virginia Law students and arrived in Los Angeles as young adults with little more than student loans, law jobs and dreams. Over 39 years, we have created a wonderful family and life, and enjoyed exceptional opportunities in business, law and philanthropy — all underpinned by our educations. In 1998, intent on meaningful giving, we formed a family foundation focused on education.

Our nation’s great universities are America’s crown jewels. By funding financial aid, we extend access to students with diverse talents but few resources and, in turn, enhance university communities. Robust higher education and life beyond require strong foundations, so we have increased access in underserved communities to first-class K-12 public schools through our longtime support of premier national organizations such as Teach For America and the KIPP public school network.

Twenty years of giving has confirmed our instincts: The ripple effects of quality education are vast — fostering opportunity and upward mobility; strengthening families, communities and economies; generating creativity; and equipping leaders to grapple with complex challenges. Education is civilization’s way forward

With a new $44 million gift, you and Bruce are supporting scholarships, professorships, and the Karsh Center for Law and Democracy. The gift also makes you the Law School’s first $50 million lifetime donors. What inspires you about UVA Law?

Like Thomas Jefferson, we believe that education is essential to a healthy democracy, promoting “virtuous leadership” — true leaders who place the public interest above their own. The recent assaults on America’s democratic institutions and core values have been deeply distressing. The deadly march on Charlottesville — haters in hoods newly energized — galvanized us to do something, and to do it at UVA.

We turned to Law School Dean Risa Goluboff as a thought partner. Together, we crafted a gift to enhance the Law School’s highest level of scholarship and teaching, and facilitate leadership development by creating the Karsh Center for Law and Democracy. Jefferson believed that lawyers, by nature of their training and work, were especially well positioned to lead. The center’s mission is to promote civic engagement, civil discourse, integrity and respect for the rule of law, and citizenship both plural and collaborative, all essential for a healthy democracy and authentic leadership.

You edited a book about the Beatles film, “A Hard Day’s Night,” and you co-own the rights to the movie. Is there something about their music or lives that you especially like?

My book was a surprise 60th birthday gift for Bruce, and a tribute to his lifelong love affair with The Beatles. The Beatles helped launch rock ‘n’ roll in America, and the critically acclaimed “A Hard Day’s Night” cemented their pivotal place in film and music history. I spent two years curating and explicating rare photographs and ephemera from the making of the film to create a beautiful, interactive volume dedicated to Bruce. Happily, it was published just a week before his party — quite a birthday surprise indeed!

What lessons from your time as a student at the Law School have served you well?

Critical thinking and problem-solving lessons have proved invaluable in every endeavor — as a mom, spouse, attorney, designer, author and philanthropist. Understanding how laws and policy are made, applied and challenged has proved essential to my role as an engaged citizen. The Law School’s rigorous emphasis on honor and truth has helped me navigate often muddy waters of contemporary life and politics.

You have the last word. What do you want to say?

It is an honor to return to my Virginia roots — both to celebrate UVA’s stature and to help realize its future promise.

Media Contact

Mary M. Wood
Chief Communications Officer
wood@law.virginia.edu / (434) 924-3786

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