According to his friends, associates and family, Richard Ullman was a man with a big heart, a gift for enterprise and someone who believed wholeheartedly that Native Americans have a lot to share with the world.
Ullman, 70, of Windermere, Florida, died September 29, 2011 at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital in New York City after a brief and courageous battle with cancer.
Ullman was a man of passion, which included his career as a pharmacist. Making enormous contributions to his chosen field, he helped design the first prescription benefit plans in the 1970s, and took pride in having the longest continuous experience in that industry in the nation. He was a successful entrepreneur, founding the National Prescription Administrators, Inc., which became the largest privately held prescription benefit manager in the country with over 1,500 employees.
Feeling a deep connection to Native Americans from the time he was a child, his friend and associate, Brenda Toineeta Pipestem, a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee of North Carolina, said she met Ullman through the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. They were both volunteers on the NMAI National Council and served together as co-chairs of the council—a special advisory and fundraising committee to the director of NMAI.
Pipestem, who is also on the board of trustees for NMAI, is an associate appellate court justice for her tribe as well as for the supreme courts of the Eastern and Mississippi Bands of Choctaw Indians. “One of the things that Richard and I did as co-chairs was make a commitment to take members of the National Council, both Native American and non-Native alike, out to Indian country every two years so that people involved with the museum have the opportunity to go into Native communities as opposed to just experiencing it through books or the museum,” she said. “He was interested in art and history, but had a real thirst for knowledge to learn more about our cultures and communities.”
Pipestem said he played a very active role in the museum and also became actively involved with the Notah Begay III Foundation, which, according to its website, is the only nonprofit organization out of 71,000 sports and youth organizations in the United States using sports, health and leadership programs to fight Type 2 diabetes among Native American youth.
His wife, Barbara Ullman, said he was a man of tremendous accomplishments, but the kind of person who got up and was happy everyday. “There were hundreds of people at his viewing and service and they would come up to me and say, ‘I can’t tell you how much he changed my life.’ He had such an impact on so many people,” she said.
Feeling a natural affinity to the way Native Americans thought about the Earth and their spirituality, Barbara said he had a deep appreciation of nature and the engineering skills of all cultures. “He was endlessly like a child in his interest in what he would see going on around him,” she said. “When the museum was being built, he wanted to be a part of it. To do what he could to help educate other people—he felt it was a tremendous opportunity to help others recognize and appreciate the beauty of the American Indian and their role in history. He said their knowledge and teachings would help all American’s to know ourselves and our roots.”
Barbara said he used to tell her that if he could do anything, he would like to be able to see America the way the First Americans saw it. “He wasn’t American Indian by blood—but in every other way he felt that strong connection,” she said. “He loved God and his country with the same unquestioning affection that he had for his mother; he was blessed by God with those kind of sure feelings. He was just such a fine, good person.”
Another friend and associate, Virginia Elwell, NMAI senior development officer, said the museum had a 20-year relationship with Ullman. He started out in 1991 as one of the first members and according to Elwell, was a major financial donor. “When we were getting ready to open the museum on the National Mall, he made a very generous donation to help us complete the building and get it open,” she said.
Elwell said he was one of the most enterprising people she had ever met. “He probably did more with his life than most people ever imagine doing. He felt that Native people had not gotten a fair shake in this country and that by him contributing to the museum dedicated to Native peoples, their past, present and hopefully a strong future, he felt he was doing something to maybe help correct that wrong.”
Conveying his generosity of spirit in everything he did, whether it was business, his association with NMAI or his family—Elwell said it was apparent during his memorial service that he had passed on that spirit and values to his children. “It was gratifying to see them carry on in his footsteps. They would tell you themselves that he lived life to the fullest,” she said.
He was very much a friend to Indian country, Elwell said, and was committed to helping other people have opportunities—that spirit carried through with his approach to his relationship and contributions to the museum.
Ullman is survived by his loving wife Barbara Marcin Ullman of Windermere, Florida, his three children; Kenneth (Nadine) Ullman of Naples, Florida, Richard A. (Lisa) Ullman of Franklin Lakes, New Jersey and Jennifer Royall (Walker) of Dallas, Texas, seven grandchildren, one brother, two sisters and many nieces and nephews.