A Longstanding Commitment

Fred Clifford ’58 says he is “connected to Williams at the hip,” and it seems he’s not far off. He’s the planned giving chair for his class, a former President of the Society of Alumni, a founding member and onetime leader of the 63 year-old Williams Reunion Jazz Band (he plays the tuba) and winner of both the Copeland Award for his admission work and the Rogerson Cup, the college’s highest award for alumni service. He had a fulfilling career at Kidder Peabody and later worked in venture investments and related activities.

Throughout his life, his commitment to and interest in the medical field has shaped his life. His father was an influential pediatrician who discovered in the 1940s that giving premature babies pure oxygen could cause blindness. He founded the nursery for premature babies, now at Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, and served as a pediatrician for the Perkins School for the Blind for many years. Some of Clifford’s first memories are of visiting Perkins with his dad, who was there to do rounds.

Today, Clifford is an overseer at Brigham & Women’s and has been on the board at the Perkins School for more than 30 years, recently as chairman.

Although his family ties to Perkins were always strong, it was a Williams connection that got Clifford back on the Perkins campus. He was helping organize his 20th reunion when he found out that classmate Harry Schmidt ’58—who had suffered a severe head injury the week before graduation—was living in a nursing home on Cape Cod. “Perkins had a head injury unit back then,” Clifford says, “and his good friend David Plater ’58 and I thought it was the perfect place for Harry.” Clifford visited Harry weekly during his five years at Perkins.

He also established a trust to cover Schmidt’s unmet needs, and over the years his classmates generously donated money to allow Harry to live a better life. But during the five years his friend was at Perkins, Clifford became reacquainted with the school’s mission. He was pleased to accept then-Gov. Michael Dukakis’s appointment to the Perkins Board in 1986, and he was recently reappointed by Governor Charlie Baker.

In his 30 years on the board, Clifford has ushered in many advancements at Perkins. He helped change the governance system of the board, facilitate a long-term relationship with the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation for Perkins’ international activities (the school serves blind students in 67 countries), and he oversaw the construction of a horticultural center, a technology center and a new lower school.

But for Clifford, it all comes back to the students. “We provide services to students across the spectrum, from mainstream blind students in regular schools all over the country—and world—to severely disabled children for whom blindness is the least of their worries,” he says. “It’s more than a school, it’s the whole issue, on a global scale, and I’m proud to be affiliated with it.”

Read more about Clifford’s involvement at Perkins.