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Giving in Gratitude

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WHEN DEBORAH WU (MPH ’19) discovered she was the inaugural recipient of the Levin-Gordon Health Policy and Management Fellowship, the first thing she did was tell her mother, who had taken on a second job to support her daughter’s education. “When I shared the good news, I could hear her relief,” Wu says. “In addition to the reduced financial burden, this fellowship affirmed my academic and professional pursuit of health care. It felt like someone was telling me I made the right decision and that I am on the right path.”

Wu is one of countless people whose lives have been touched by the generosity of Tom Gordon, a widely known and influential figure in health care management who is one of the Fielding School’s leading supporters.

Above all else, Gordon is guided by a love of family and a strong desire to give back. Married for 46 years, he and his wife Edna Gordon have two daughters and five grandchildren who call him “Opa,” German for “Grandpa.” Gordon credits his own parents — who survived Nazi occupation during World War II, then immigrated to the U.S. from Berlin when Gordon was 3 years old — with providing the support that made his success possible.

Gordon was a leader in the Cedars-Sinai Health System as executive vice president and CEO of Cedars-Sinai Medical Network Services for 22 years, and continues in an advisory role as consultant to the president. Throughout his career in medical management, he has touted the importance of putting people first, creating a culture of family while also staying focused on quality and value. Although Gordon graduated from UCLA with a BA in economics, it wasn’t until 1995 that he became involved with the Fielding School. That’s when his friend and mentor Dr. Paul Torrens, FSPH professor emeritus, invited him to deliver a lecture on strategic planning and forecasting the future of health care. From there, Torrens invited Gordon to serve as a preceptor and guest lecturer in FSPH’s graduate programs in health policy and management.

Ever since, Gordon has maintained a strong presence at the school, receiving an honorary MPH and serving as an executive committee member of FSPH’s Board of Advisors. He has mentored more than 25 students pursuing careers as future health care leaders, many of whom interned at Cedars-Sinai as students, then went on to work with Gordon full time upon graduating. Maya Kadekodi (MPH ’09), a former Gordon mentee, worked at Cedars-Sinai for seven years after interning there when she was an FSPH student. “Tom taught us to take every opportunity to pass on to others what we’ve learned,” says Kadekodi, now director of strategic initiatives for DSL Construction Corp. and the Don Levin Trust, where Gordon serves as chairman of the board. “Not everyone takes the time to listen, coach and mentor like Tom Gordon has for so many of us.”

“These students could easily seek occupations with higher earnings,” Gordon says. “We need to support the students who wish to make a meaningful change and address issues affecting people’s health, and reward them for choosing this career.”

In 2016, Tom and Edna Gordon formalized this commitment, in conjunction with longtime family friend and Los Angeles land developer Donald S. Levin. Together, they establishedtwo endowed fellowships to support the financial needs of students in the Fielding School’s Department of Health Policy and Management who demonstrate the potential to make significant contributions as future health care leaders. It’s a gift that will continue providing opportunities to study public health for generations to come.

For Deborah Wu, who is now set to graduate in a much better position to  realize her career goals, it’s a dream come true. “Words cannot fully express my gratitude for your commitment to investing in students such as myself,” Wu said in thanking her benefactors.
“As you have paid it forward to me, I will continue to pay it forward to those around me. I hope to make health care more accessible, more affordable and more approachable with every step I take as an aspiring health care leader.”

In recognition of Tom Gordon’s long history of supporting the Fielding School, his outstanding leadership and service in health care, and his devotion to current FSPH students, he will receive the UCLA Health Policy and Management Alumni Association’s first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award at the 2019 Leaders of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow Annual Dinner. In yet another generous act of giving back, Gordon is dedicating the award to one of his own mentors and announcing a new gift to the school. In partnership with the Don Levin Trust, Gordon has pledged a lead gift to establish the Paul Torrens Chair in Healthcare Management, further strengthening FSPH’s role as a premier academic destination for health care leaders. Gordon is seeking additional partners to help endow this position in perpetuity. To join him in honoring Paul Torrens and his influence shaping the careers of public health students for more than 40 years, please contact Tracy Hough at though@support.ucla.edu or call (310) 825-3003.