About the Marilyn Lichtman Foundation

Marilyn Lichtman’s life has been an unfolding drama of inspired action, and “ahead of her time,” “trendsetter” and “visionary” aptly describe her long and esteemed career.

Marilyn’s story

Nurturing a desire to immerse herself in the arts, teenaged Marilyn—already a force of nature—tested her way into New York City’s High School of Music & Art, known popularly as “Music & Art” or the Castle on the Hill. Her artistic skill and ambition then earned her a spot at Pratt Institute, where she was thrilled to study for three years in its BFA program before transferring to New York University; she received a Bachelor of Science in Education & Fine Arts from NYU in 1966.

To afford college, she worked three jobs, traveling through three NYC boroughs each day. One of her summer jobs during those art-filled college years landed her with Dr. Aaron Lee Lichtman, a brilliant general surgeon in Manhattan who was known internationally and a pioneer in elder care. Armed with the belief that ill and aging people deserved opportunities for more fulfilling and stimulating lives than were currently offered at most institutions, Doc opened DeWitt Nursing Home at 211 East 79th Street in August 1967. He also convinced Marilyn to postpone her dream of an assistant professorship at Pratt to work for him at DeWitt for just one year.

Almost half a century later, that “one year” ended with her retirement and the sale of DeWitt in 2015.

The DeWitt years

In the interim, she and Doc married and she devoted her life and creative energies to DeWitt’s staff, residents and families, helping to bring extraordinary experiences and greatly enriched and enhanced lives to those in her care.

Before Doc became ill—he died in 1981—he inspired Marilyn to take a course in Nursing Home Administration. It didn’t backfire: through her leadership, DeWitt inspired an array of important new directions in sensitive care for the aging that changed standards of treatment forever more.

As the newly named director of activities, director of rehabilitation services, then assistant administrator and finally executive director, Marilyn developed her revolutionary ideas. These included New York’s first in-house chaplaincy program with Rev. James Jeffrey, a citywide volunteer program enlisting the elderly and the first pet therapy program—a successful ASPCA-supported endeavor that made use of the profound effect of the animal-resident connection. “It started as an education program, but became so much more. We found that if you supply the animals, the miracle happens,” she said.

Her creative education found even more use at DeWitt: she created painting techniques for handicapped residents, established a series of cultural festivals that saluted the residents’ various heritages, encouraged individualized arts programs and a video drama therapy techniques program.

The top floor at DeWitt became the activities floor and Marilyn’s domain: windows and easels all around, walls with a painted mural of Monet-like gardens and on the floor a life-sized Monopoly board so residents could play the popular game in their wheelchairs—when they weren’t enjoying wheelchair dancing.

Almost half a century later, that “one year” ended with her retirement and the sale of DeWitt in 2015.

From NYC to Bucks County

Meanwhile, Marilyn was a fierce defender of DeWitt’s reputation as one of New York’s finest nursing homes, giving credit to its dedicated employees and a very committed Family Council. She encouraged and supported efforts to enhance the health, safety and well-being of all of the state’s elderly residents, including developing and running educational programs at DeWitt and providing a forum for activities personnel.

Marilyn had bought her beautiful house in Bucks County in 2005, and for a decade she escaped the city and her Manhattan apartment for the serene wooded and landscaped countryside that hugs her art-filled home. These days, most of her time is spent here in Bucks with her beloved and devoted dogs and equally devoted and appreciated staff-slash-dear-friends-slash-family.

With their support, she is hoping to make the world a better place, starting in the Central Bucks community, through the Marilyn Lichtman Foundation.