Commencement 2017: Biographies – Joyce Cummings, J97P, M97P

Joyce Cummings, philanthropist and trustee for Cummings Foundation, Inc. is awarded an honorary Doctor of Public Service during the Phase I ceremony of Tufts University's 161st Commencement on Sunday, May 21, 2017.
Photo by Alonso Nichols/Tufts Photography


Your philanthropy reflects your profound belief that the true measure of wealth is how it enriches the lives of others. That conviction has inspired you to partner with your husband, Bill, in exceptionally generous giving. Cummings Foundation Inc., which you and Bill created, has already donated $160 million to nonprofits in Greater Boston and around the world to support human services, education, health care, and social justice. Your commitment to local communities is evident in the foundation’s support for small and medium-sized non-profits—organizations for whom its annual “100K” grants can be transformative. Here at Tufts, we too are grateful beneficiaries of the foundation’s philanthropy—including the gift that named Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine on our Grafton campus. Your special interest in supporting education to help prevent future genocides and other intercultural violence and injustice is reflected on campus in the Cummings/Hillel Program for Holocaust and Genocide Education. Though you did not attend Tufts as your husband and daughters did, you have become an active and respected member of our university community. In recognition of a life devoted to service for the greater good, we are honored to award you the honorary degree of Doctor of Public Service.


JOYCE CUMMINGS, J97P, M97P, has blazed a trail in both local and international philanthropy, alongside her husband, William (Bill) Cummings, A58, H06, J97P, M97P.

In May 2011, after quietly contributing to the local community for many years, Joyce and Bill were the first Massachusetts family to join the Giving Pledge. Through this charitable-giving pact created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, some of the world’s wealthiest individuals have pledged to donate at least half of their assets for philanthropic purposes. Joyce explained in a speech to the Boston Foundation that their public commitment had two purposes. “The first was to encourage others to get involved with philanthropy and to give what they could, ” she said. The second was to make their new grant-making foundation more widely known–so it could do more good.

Joyce serves as a trustee for Cummings Foundation, which was founded in 1986 and is now one of the largest private foundations in New England. It has awarded more than $160 million to nonprofits serving a broad range of causes in the greater Boston area, including human services, education, health care, and social justice.

Joyce and Bill have been extraordinary supporters of Tufts University. In 2005, Cummings Foundation committed $50 million to what is now known as Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts, the only veterinary school in New England, in recognition of its critical role in combating global pandemics and advancing the Massachusetts biotechnology industry. Bill is a trustee emeritus of the university.

Through the foundation’s Institute for World Justice, the couple supports education to help prevent future genocides and, in Rwanda, collaborative efforts with Partners In Health and others to aid in the post-genocide recovery and rebuilding of that East African nation. Joyce and Bill were inspired to confront societal conditions that might lead to genocide after a 2009 trip to Israel, during which they heard Holocaust survivor Eliezer Ayalon speak in Jerusalem. Joyce told the Boston Globe that on the flight home, “We looked at each other and said, ‘We have to do something. We can’t just go back home to our happy-go- lucky life. ” “The couple already has given away most of their fortune. “They’ve almost behaved as if the money really wasn’t theirs from the very beginning, ” Tufts University President Emeritus Lawrence Bacow told the Boston Globe in 2011. “They’ve been stewards for it. ”

During an address at Endicott College’s commencement ceremony last year, Joyce noted that at many points in their life together, she and Bill had dreams about public service that exceeded their financial capacity to give. However, she told the students that “as you begin to give, you find there are infinite ways to ‘do’ philanthropy. Time and talent are as helpful as money. ”

Joyce Cummings is a past president of En Ka Society of Winchester, Massachusetts, a women’s service organization, and a former trustee of Massachusetts Eye and Ear, where she worked as a hospital dietitian. She was a longtime member of the boards of trustees of Winchester Community Music School and VNA Hospice Care of Woburn, Massachusetts. A graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham, she holds honorary degrees from Endicott College and Salem State University.

Tufts will award her an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.