Retired Educator’s Estate Gift Will Support a Haven for Healthy Weight Management 

Entrance to Duke Health Building with blue awningLucy Lettera understands firsthand the struggle of being overweight. “Being overweight comes with a myriad of medical, physical, and emotional problems,” said Lettera, of Rye Brook, New York. “For me, it was about my own self-esteem and wanting to improve my health.”  

Ready to take control of her health and wellbeing, Lettera made her first trip to the Duke Diet and Fitness Center — now the Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center — in 1986. At the time, the center was a residential program where participants attended classes along with participating in group sessions focused on nutrition and diet, behavioral modification, fitness and exercise, and medical conditions.  

For Lettera, a mathematics teacher for over 30 years, trips to Durham became an annual healthy vacation.  

“The center became my summer getaway,” said Lettera, a former member of the center’s board of advisors. “Once school ended, I headed down to Duke for my healthy vacation. It was a loving environment with the objective of embracing and nurturing every aspect of clients’ lives. Over time, I made friendships with other people who returned each year; it was as though we became a family.” 

Over the years, she appreciated the opportunity to participate in the program each summer. Even when she returned home after her summer visit, the Duke team was always available via phone calls or emails. 

Grateful for the compassionate care and support she received at Duke, Lettera designated a   gift in her will of her home, valued at approximately $2,000,000, to help future patients achieve health and wellness. The gift will establish The Lucy A. Lettera Wellness Fund, a permanent endowment that will provide unrestricted support for the Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center. The gift also will support The Duke Diet and Fitness Center Fund, an existing permanent endowment that provides financial assistance to patients at the center who qualify for such support. 

“Thanks to Ms. Lettera’s wonderful generosity, our team will be able to continue providing a robust weight management program for our patients,” said William S. Yancy Jr., MD, MHS, FTOS, medical director of the Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center. “This wellness fund will stand as a permanent testament to Lucy Lettera’s generosity and her belief in our ability to change lives. Our team is grateful for the confidence she has expressed in our work.” 

Though the Duke Lifestyle and Weight Management Center is no longer a residential program, it still offers a comprehensive approach to obesity treatment, weight loss, and lifestyle change. The medical team strives to guide patients in developing healthy eating habits, building a safe and effective fitness regimen, and maintaining weight loss. The program offers virtual and in-person appointments to help patients identify and achieve realistic weight loss goals. 

Thanks to the support she received from the program, Lettera has been able to maintain a healthy weight and cultivate a healthy lifestyle.  

fruits and vegetables on a table


“The people there — staff and participants — extended an invisible hug, and you felt freedom to share anything about your life, whether it was weight-related or not,” Lettera said. “The staff never focused on the scale. They were there to care for our physical as well as emotional needs. These experiences affected me so much that I knew I had to say thank you in a special, long-lasting way.” 

Her estate gift is an expression of that gratitude, and a profound gesture of support and compassion for others.   

“Weight control is a serious medical condition in the United States,” she said. “If I could free someone from that burden after I die, then let that be my precious legacy. I will have done something good and helped other persons live a healthier, happier life. That brings me joy.” 


By Karen Doss Bowman