‘I believed it was my responsibility to give back’

The late Julian Newman leaves a legacy for USF scholars of today and tomorrow

Aug. 10, 2023

You could tell a lot about the late Dr. Julian Newman just by looking at his Florida license plate: FDR 1933, a nod to the inauguration of Franklin Delano Roosevelt as the 32nd president of the United States.

“This conveyed Julian’s sense of history along with his deeply held political values,” said Fraser Ottanelli, a longtime history faculty member who became close with Newman over the years. “President Roosevelt was a leader who showed concern for the well-being of the poor and oppressed, who helped give a voice to those who had been long denied a say in their lives.”

President Roosevelt also gave Newman hope in the possibility of a future where policies were based on solidarity, said Ottanelli, adding, “Julian did his part to realize that future.”

In his youth, Newman was active in the civil rights movement, and in his later years, he shared those experiences with younger generations.

He provided the Department of History with endowed scholarships for students who plan to use their education to effect social change. One is named in honor of Ottanelli.

“Dr. Newman was a voice for his generation and an even louder advocate for the generations he got to teach,” said Ottanelli.

Newman died May 22, 2023. In his nearly 90 years, he touched countless lives through his work as an optometrist, his advocacy efforts and his generous gifts to support scholarships in history, English and the arts at USF.

Along with President Roosevelt, Newman was influenced by his father, who he described as having the manner of a Southern gentleman in his work, in his service to the community and in his caring for others. He died when Newman was young, but set an example of working hard and giving generously that stayed with his son.

Born in Yonkers, New York, Newman moved to Florida at the age of 25, settling in Tampa where he established a successful optometry practice, developing a specialty in the treatment of low vision patients. Tampa is also where he was inspired by then-Florida Gov. LeRoy Collins’ speech in 1958, challenging all residents to rise up as good citizens and contribute to the growth of their home state.

USF was just beginning in those days. Newman connected with some of its first liberal arts professors, eventually becoming a frequent guest speaker and teacher himself. He was fond of saying, “I may have graduated from New York University, but I gained my education from USF.”

In 1978, Newman made his first financial gift to the College of The Arts. Soon after, he established a poetry award in memory of his sister, Dorothy. In later years, Newman and his beloved wife, Bettye, supported the university through the Newman Endowment Growth Fund, which funds eight different scholarships, each honoring the legacy of family members and friends who are like family to them.

Of his giving, Newman once said: “As I became successful in my profession, I believed it was my responsibility to give back, and what better way to give to the future of the community than to support students and their education. When I invest in students and all the others who have and will receive these scholarships, I am investing in our own local community and its leadership for years to come.”

Scott Miller received the 2021 Harry and Julian Newman American History Graduate Student Award. Miller used the funds to travel to archives, libraries and museums around the U.S. to conduct research for his dissertation on the Cold War–era Friendship Train.

“It was time incredibly well spent and a trip made possible by your generosity,” he wrote to Newman.

A similar award allowed Brittani Allen, the 2022 recipient of the Harry and Julian Newman Archival Research Award in English, to travel to England’s Bodleian and British libraries for her dissertation research.

“As a graduate student on a meticulously tight budget, an archival trip would not have been possible without your contribution,” Allen wrote in a thank-you note to Newman. “Your generosity is what propelled my project to its fullest potential and reignited my genuine love for research.”

Newman was a fierce advocate for liberal arts education, said Lisa Meloncon, professor of technical communication in the Department of English. His generous support for scholarships in the College of Arts and Sciences, she said, was an expression of that advocacy.

“He was also driven to honor the memory of those who had impacted his life,” she said, “so his pay-it-forward mentality has impacted, and I hope continues to impact, the students who were the recipients of his generosity.”


Endowment Assets Through FY23


Total First Time Donors in FY23


FY 2022-23 Total Commitment