Bill Diaz was an expert on Hispanic cultures. He was a pioneer in philanthropy, developing the first community foundation in Puerto Rico and documenting the extent and importance of charitable giving in the Latino community in the United States. He was one of only a few Hispanics with a Ph.D. when he earned his doctorate in political science from Fordham University in the 1970s and the Ford Foundation's first Hispanic program officer. He was a native New Yorker with a ready wit.
But, at the Humphrey School, it was his love for students that made him a hero.
"When I was considering graduate programs in public policy, I met with several professors and alumni of programs to make my decision," says Jennifer Godinez (MA '99), associate director of the Minnesota Minority Education Partnership. "Bill Diaz was someone who took great interest in my pursuit of learning about the impact public policies and public institutions could make within the Latino community. When I came to the Humphrey, he advised me and mentored me into the local Latino nonprofit sector. I will never forget how Bill was engaged in my journey through graduate school before, during, and after the Humphrey School."
Godinez is just one of dozens of graduates who called Diaz friend and mentor. Since his death from a brain tumor in 2002, the Professor Melissa Stone and others with the Public and Nonprofit Leadership Center have been trying to continue his legacy.
"The connection between public policy and philanthropy was central to Bill's work," Stone says. "He was very broad and original in his thinking, really exploring the concept of philanthropy in the public interest."
Thanks to a recent gift from the Diaz family, more students will be able to follow in those trailblazing footsteps. The donation brings the William Diaz Fellowship--begun some years ago as a tribute to his life and work--to the endowed fellowship level, helping it continue in perpetuity and making payouts from the endowment eligible for University matching funds. The fellowship will support a research assistantship for a student within the public and nonprofit management area.
"We really want to take Bill's work on philanthropy in the public interest and embed it within the Institute and provide more funding and support," says Stone. "Having an RA focused on the relationship among charitable giving, public policy, and the nonprofit sector will be of great help."
"As much as Bill enjoyed having a fuss made, he was very generous of spirit and really, really enjoyed seeing people that he knew do well," says Diaz's widow, Dorothy Thompson. "He would be delighted that this fellowship could help move some younger person out into the world of nonprofits and help people in need. If he could have a hand in helping students move forward, he would be pleased."