Robert W. Wilson (philanthropist)

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Robert W. Wilson
Philanthropist Robert W. Wilson.jpg
Wilson in June 2012
Born Robert Warne Wilson
(1926-11-03)November 3, 1926
Detroit, Michigan, U.S.
Died December 23, 2013(2013-12-23) (aged 87)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Alma mater
Occupation Businessman, philanthropist
Spouse(s) Marilyn Wilson (divorced)

Robert Warne Wilson (November 3, 1926 – December 23, 2013) was an American hedge fund manager, philanthropist and art collector.


Born in Detroit, Wilson gained his undergraduate degree at Amherst College and his masters from the University of Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan law school, but later left to work as a securities analyst. He founded his own hedge fund Wilson & Associates in 1969 and retired in 1986. By 2000 he was worth an estimated $800 million.[1]

According to BusinessWeek he gave away over four hundred million dollars, and according to others more than $600 million,[1] to environmental and preservation organizations including the Nature Conservancy and the World Monuments Fund.[2] "The idea of 'But for my money, it would be gone forever' appeals," he once remarked.[3] After his death, an email correspondence with Bill Gates revealed that Wilson opposed The Giving Pledge, calling it "practically worthless".[4]

An avid art collector at the time, Wilson had been on the board of trustees of the Whitney Museum of American Art for over thirty years.[5] His name surfaced during a dispute between John L. Stewart (with whom he had formed an art partnership) and Stewart's former assistant Neil W. Stevenson (who went on to become an art dealer himself) and said "John thinks that Neil possesses some pieces of art that belong to us. And Neil thinks John owes him some money. And I suspect both of those statements are true, and why the matter can’t be settled is beyond me."[6]

In his will Wilson left his art collection to the Whitney with the exception of James Rosenquist's 1997 painting, "The Meteor Hits the Swimmer's Pillow".[7]

He was chairman of the New York City Opera board from 1981 to 1993.[1] Wilson was passionate about criminal justice reform, and was a member of the American Civil Liberties Union for over four decades.[8]


Wilson died on December 23, 2013 at the age of 87, after leaping from the 16th floor of his apartment at The San Remo on Central Park West in the New York City borough of Manhattan. He had suffered a stroke in the month of June and another in the month prior to his suicide.[3][9]

Wilson was openly gay[7] but had been married to the former Marilyn Wilson and was divorced from her. He had no children.[1] He was survived by his brother William.[10]


  1. ^ a b c d "Robert W. Wilson, Frugal Philanthropist, Dies at 87" by Paul Vitello, The New York Times, December 27, 2013
  2. ^ "Meet the New Top Givers". Bloomberg Businessweek. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  3. ^ a b Meghan Keneally (December 24, 2013). "Multi-millionaire Robert W. Wilson killed, 86[sic], jumps to his death after giving all his money to charity". Daily Mail. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  4. ^ Kosman, Josh (January 1, 2014). "Bill Gates told that his charity pledge is 'worthless' | New York Post". Retrieved May 14, 2014. 
  5. ^ "Whitney Museum of American Art: Board of Trustees As of October 22, 2013". October 22, 2013. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  6. ^ "A Bomb Grows in Brooklyn | The New York Observer". Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  7. ^ a b Marsh, Julia (January 16, 2014). "Tycoon who jumped to his death after stroke leaves $2M to staffer | New York Post". Retrieved May 14, 2014. 
  8. ^ "The ACLU Mourns the Death of Robert Wilson | American Civil Liberties Union". Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  9. ^ Stevens, Charles W.; Chris Dolmetsch (December 24, 2013). "Robert Wilson, Hedge Fund Founder, Leaps to His Death at 87". Bloomberg News. Retrieved December 28, 2013. 
  10. ^ "Tycoon Robert Wilson gives away $800 million fortune before jumping to death" by John Selby, The Independent, December 27, 2013