Profile in Philanthropy: Dr. Theo George Wilson
Originally from Scotland, Theo George Wilson grew up in London in the 20s and 30s. He recalls as an infant a fascination with music; selecting gramophone records to dance to from his parents' collection; picking out notes with one finger on a piano he could barely reach up to. His favorites included music from Bizet’s Carmen and Jack Payne’s BBC Dance Orchestra.
During World War II as a teenager, Dr. Wilson served in uniform in the Home Guard; worked as a junior chemist at Glaxo on penicillin production; and went to night school to study math, physics and eventually earned a Bachelor’s degree with honors in chemistry. After the war, he had saved up enough to enter the University of London’s Imperial College and get a Ph.D. in biochemistry.
For recreation, he played contract bridge and went to classical music concerts and jazz clubs. At Victor Feldman’s Club in London he won an amateur singing contest—his accompanist was Eddie Thompson, a bebop pianist. Dr. Wilson was invited to audition for a new band being formed, but at that time got a Fulbright Scholarship to continue his research in Wisconsin, which took precedence. He sometimes wonders how different his life might have been if he had pursued a career in music, in which he never got formal training.
Nevertheless, music has always remained a significant part of his life.
Dr. Wilson continued his scientific work here, married an American, taught chemistry in New York, lived in Chelsea for a while and pursued research appointments in Princeton and Philadelphia where he received his M.D. from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Now focused on a medical career, he joined the faculty of Temple University while doing cardiovascular research there. Later he was Medical Director at two Michigan hospitals and Director of Medical Services at the Lafayette Psychiatric Clinic in Detroit.
In the tumultuous years of the 60s and 70s Dr. Wilson was very involved in the Civil Rights struggle; leading a national organization providing medical support to human rights and anti-war workers and marching with them in the South.
From Michigan, he moved to California for the next 25 years, where he first was an Associate Professor at Stanford University and then at the State of California Health Services as the Chief of Medical Policy and the Chief Physician of the MediCal Program.
Dr. Wilson eventually retired, returning to New York City where he is strategically located to enjoy a cultural retirement close to Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Metropolitan Opera, MOMA, theaters, ballet and of course, Manhattan School of Music.
Dr. Wilson’s upbringing stressed the power and importance of philanthropy. Now, in his retirement years with the time and resources available, Dr. Wilson regularly supports cultural and medical initiatives.
Recently, he started funding an annual scholarship for a pre-college student studying jazz at Manhattan School of Music. He has also made plans to create a lasting legacy at the School by generously naming MSM as the beneficiary of one of his retirement accounts. His gift will eventually establish two endowed scholarships in Jazz Arts and Orchestral Performance to assist talented students pursuing a world-class conservatory education. “I’m the last of my family line, the last of my name,” says Dr. Wilson. “It means so much to have them live on through scholarships benefiting talented young students entering the worlds of professional music and science.”
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