"Taking The Broad View"

Dr. Theo Wilson

Dr. Theo Wilson (right) with Rui Costa, PhD, director and chief executive officer at Columbia's Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute.

In a life rich in facets—research biochemist, physician, university professor, health policy decision-maker, civil rights activist, devoted spouse—Dr. Theo Wilson has seen again and again the importance of thinking broadly. And these days he feels the urgency more than ever.

“We need to improve how we're approaching the world's problems, from climate to health. So many organizations talk seriously about the human clock running down, and I want to promote a broader view of human activity to help save a world teetering on the edge.”

One way to do so, Wilson decided, is through estate gifts to Columbia’s Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute. As a result Columbia will establish The Claudia Land and Dr. Theo George Wilson Ideas Fund and The Claudia Land and Dr. Theo George Wilson Scholars Fund, named in honor of Wilson and his late wife, who passed away in 2016. “I know the value of an interdisciplinary approach to science,” he says, “and I know the Zuckerman Institute is a great investment. It is the future.”

Claudia Land and Dr. Theo Wilson
Claudia Land and Dr. Theo Wilson


Wilson and Land’s journey to Zuckerman began after they moved to New York in the mid-90s after 25 years out west, where he served on the faculty of Stanford University and as chief of medical policy in the department of health services for the state of California. For Claudia, who practiced law in California and then in New York, it was in fact a return—to New York, to Columbia, where she had studied biology in the 1950s, and to health-related subjects that had long interested her. She would earn two master’s degrees here, in bioethics and in narrative medicine. And over the years, she and Wilson saw the new directions Columbia was taking in brain science.

“The Zuckerman Institute is a great investment. It is the future.”


“We were intrigued by Columbia’s plans for the Zuckerman Institute and particularly enjoyed the lectures,” Wilson explains, referring to the Institute’s public programs. “Just to take one example, a researcher approaching the neurological aspects of bird song or other animal behavior may well also be looking at things historically and philosophically. The Zuckerman faculty also includes sculptors and artists and writers, as well as laboratory scientists, themselves broad thinkers. And we appreciated that at Zuckerman, research related to brain health is aimed not only to treating patients but also to understanding the implications for science, ethics, policy, and the public.”

“Claudia’s passing presented me a problem,” Wilson relates. “I had a will that was very brief and to the point: ‘I leave everything to my beloved wife,’ end of story.” So Wilson revisited his estate plan and included the Zuckerman Institute as a beneficiary. I'm very happy,” he adds “to join Claudia’s name with mine in jointly supporting Columbia's work.”

To learn more about Dr. Wilson’s journey from Scotland to Manhattanville, visit https://giftplanning.columbia.edu/why-plan-now/impact-makers/dr-theo-george-wilson

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