Amherst College alum William McCall Vickery leaves $22M to benefit Emily Dickinson Museum

  • The Emily Dickinson Museum in Amherst. GAZETTE FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/5/2019 3:30:44 PM

AMHERST — A $25 million gift to the Amherst College endowment from a 1957 graduate will be largely dedicated to maintaining and improving the Emily Dickinson Museum.

Announced by the college Tuesday, the gift, of which all but $3 million will go to the museum, comes from the estate of William McCall Vickery, who died at 83 in February.

The college has owned the museum since 2003, and the Homestead, where Emily Dickinson lived and composed her poetry, since 1965. 

Most of the gift will go toward the maintenance and improvement of the museum’s buildings, including the historic Homestead and the Evergreens, the 3-acre landscape and grounds and the 7,000 items in the museum’s collection. This will be known as the William McCall Vickery ’57 Emily Dickinson Fund.

Vickery, of Amherst, was a founding member of the board of governors for the Emily Dickinson Museum 16 years ago and, in 2014, led and championed a campaign to restore Emily Dickinson’s bedroom.

“Bill Vickery truly cherished the Emily Dickinson Museum,” Museum Executive Director Jane Wald said in a statement, adding that Vickery understood the importance of the ongoing restorations to the site.

“He was at the lead in every undertaking for the museum’s improvement, and his quiet enthusiasm was infectious and never deterred,” Wald said. “His transformative gift will enable the museum to become the true center of celebration of Emily Dickinson’s life and work.”

The endowed gift is the largest ever received by the museum and Wald said she anticipates it will have a “very great impact” on the museum because it is dedicated as a permanently endowed fund for buildings, grounds and maintenance that will provide investment income for its properties. 

“This is many, many times the size of a gift the museum has ever received,” Wald said by phone Wednesday. 

In June, the college spent $525,000 to buy a 2,200-square-foot, two-story 1909 Georgian Colonial home at 20 Triangle St., where the administrative offices will move and which will allow more of the Homestead to be restored for an expanded interpretation of the poet’s life.

The remaining $3 million gift from Vickery will be used for maintenance of the pianos in the college’s music department and will be known as the William McCall Vickery ’57 Piano Fund.

College President Biddy Martin, said in a statement that there was no aspect of the college’s mission that did not interest Vickery and there was no area of the college that didn’t benefit from his “energetic, wry, and deeply insightful engagement.”

“His gift to the Emily Dickinson Museum is a gift to us all and to generations to come, as is his gift to the college’s department of music,” Martin said. “Bill understood and he helped ensure that the poetry and music that were special to him will remain at the heart of Amherst.”

After earning an MBA from Harvard Business School, Vickery launched a 27-year career in advertising with Dancer Fitzgerald Sample in New York City. In 1987, Vickery retired as vice chairman of the company’s board and chairman of DFS International.

In 1988, he began a career at the college, holding positions in advancement, and as assistant treasurer, until retiring in 2008.

John Beeson, chairman of the museum’s board of governors, also praised Vickery’s gift and his vision.

“Bill’s extraordinary legacy gift will inspire others to support a wide range of projects related both to historic preservation and to the continued expansion of key programs about Emily Dickinson’s life and significance,” Beeson said.

Previously, as part of his 50th class reunion, Vickery endowed The William McCall Vickery 1957 Professorship, which honors a senior faculty member who is distinguished by and dedicated to teaching and research of art history or musicology.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at

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