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Openly Gay New York Philanthropist Robert W. Wilson Commits Suicide

You may have heard a snippet this week about Robert W. Wilson, a millionaire philanthropist who recently committed suicide by jumping from the 16th floor of his New York apartment. But some of the news stories covering his death have neglected to mention that he was gay.

RobertThough the 87-year-old founder of the Wilson & Associates hedge fund married a woman during his lifetime, he divorced her over four decades ago and had no children.

According to his friends, Wilson had thought about committing suicide for a long time due to his declining health — he had had a stroke in June, another one about a month before his death, and even went so far as to wonder aloud about killing himself at his 87th birthday party in November. The New York Post reports that a friend suggested that he jump into the courtyard of his apartment — a "beloved, art-filled, $20  million-plus apartment overlooking Central Park" that he considered "his refuge from a sometimes unfriendly city" — so that he wouldn't land on anyone. He apparently took her advice.

His brief suicide note read: “I had a rewarding life. Thank you and goodbye to all my friends. Please make sure you cancel all my plans. Tell everyone what I did. I’m not ashamed of killing myself. Sell all my stuff." The New York Times said that the note concluded with "a list of appointments that would have to be canceled.”

Over his lifetime, the self-described atheist gave hundreds of millions to environmental groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund the Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the World Monuments Fund as well as to the American Civil Liberties Union and Catholic schools which he considered "exceptionally good" and more efficient than public schools. He made a majority of his philanthropic contributions on the condition that they be used to match other's donations in order to help raise more money.

He also reportedly used to split cab fares and dinner checks with his wealthy friends and neighbors, and regularly took the subway, despite his millions.

By the time of his death Wilson had given a majority of his fortune to charity.

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  1. He sounds like a wonderful, caring person and he died on his own terms. Jumping from a balcony wouldn't have been my choice, but even in death he seems to have been considerate. I am sure he will be very missed.

    Posted by: Graphicjack | Jan 2, 2014 10:08:45 AM

  2. I wish I had known him.

    Atheists (at least those I've known) seem to handle life and death better than religionists. One said to me, "I had a long life. I had a good life. ....don't cry for me."

    Posted by: james st. james | Jan 2, 2014 10:18:43 AM

  3. What I thought was strange about this story wasn't the suicide, it was that he was a long-time confirmed atheist, like since he was an undergraduate, and yet he donated millions of dollars, not to Catholic schools, as this posting indicates, but directly to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York. I've read interviews with him before where he said that he thought some Catholic schools taught basic skills better than other schools, but, come on, out of tens of thousands of schools in the US, he couldn't find *any* that were more LGBT-friendly?

    Posted by: Eric | Jan 2, 2014 10:23:32 AM

  4. Yeah, you lost me on the Catholic school bit. Sorry, to all flying squirrels.

    Posted by: Sean Maloney | Jan 2, 2014 10:28:10 AM

  5. Good for him. He died on his own terms, and he had a full life. Saying that your only regret is the mess to be cleaned up ain't a bad way to go.

    Posted by: plinx | Jan 2, 2014 10:31:32 AM

  6. it's not considerate to jump off a balcony because someone is going to have to scrape his body off the ground

    Posted by: Grover Underwood | Jan 2, 2014 10:36:11 AM

  7. He most likely suffered from depression, which is very hard to treat in the elderly and some anti-depressants can contribute to the desire to commit suicide.

    Posted by: anon | Jan 2, 2014 10:36:15 AM

  8. I'm sure he could have got some Ambien or Vicodin he could have just ODd from. What a mess and why traumatized your neighbors.

    Posted by: Mike | Jan 2, 2014 10:38:20 AM

  9. Atheism is sad.

    Posted by: Jay | Jan 2, 2014 10:40:46 AM

  10. I wonder for insurance purposes if 87 years old still counts as suicide. Dementia can be pretty strong by then.

    Posted by: NE1 | Jan 2, 2014 11:06:47 AM

  11. @Mike that's how I would go when I was ready. He might have had Alzheimers and demntia.

    Posted by: NE1 | Jan 2, 2014 11:08:12 AM

  12. @Jay. Your irrational clinging to a mystical afterlife is what is sad. You and millions upon millions of other have been brainwashed from childhood to believe and you don't even realize it.

    "The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell. Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: We stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more." -The Portable Atheist

    Posted by: Dearcomrade | Jan 2, 2014 11:09:41 AM

  13. What's sad is people clinging to some fairy tale that does nothing but bring self doubt, misery, and fosters a false dependency on someone or something else's approval of their own life.

    Posted by: stevetalbert | Jan 2, 2014 11:29:31 AM

  14. Religion, like insurance, is fear based. Religionists go through life with a head full of cobwebs, not to mention ghosts, holy or otherwise, devils, angels and a fear of death and eternity in hell. Nice package. No thanks.

    Life is a mystery, a gift to be enjoyed, a puzzle that we are a part of.

    There's no need for con men who neither sow nor reap yet live off the weekly contributions of their flocks. Let them get jobs then we can discuss philosophy after work.

    Posted by: james st. james | Jan 2, 2014 11:31:32 AM

  15. @DEARCOMRADE at least I'm rational and humble enough to recognize that I don't have all the answers and that my life is not for me to take, that's just wrong. And if you believe otherwise then what's the point of initiatives such as the It Gets Better Project? in an atheistic view, shouldn't it be their choice?

    Posted by: Jay | Jan 2, 2014 11:32:09 AM

  16. @ANON not everyone who commits suicide is deranged or suffering from dementia or depression. He was 87 and in poor health and wanted to go on his own terms apparently, and in other countries he would have been free to do so with medical assistance.

    Posted by: DrKRL | Jan 2, 2014 11:32:34 AM

  17. some of the clueless keyboard warriors hiding behind a computer screen acting like tough guys, belittling this man need to be a big bad tough guy and approach a group of bikers, or gangs with that same sass and see where it gets you.

    Posted by: TX G | Jan 2, 2014 11:47:20 AM

  18. The shame in this is that within a "civilized" society, this was one of the few options available.

    Posted by: dixichuk | Jan 2, 2014 12:00:42 PM

  19. @Jay, "in an atheistic view, shouldn't it be their choice?" For some reason you seem to equate atheism with not caring for others.

    This is a common view of theists, that without belief in a deity people lack morality and care for their fellow humans.

    Morality is far older than the judeo-christian belief system and if you read the post on Mr. Wilson's life you would realize the extent to which an atheist cares for his fellow people.

    Additionally, if it is not your life to take Who's is it? Mr. Wilson had no children, was 87 years old and in declining health. Good for him if he chose to pull the plug. Where is the harm in that (unless you land on someone)?

    From reading the post I can only imagine he left a donation to the folks that had to scrap him off the courtyard floor.

    Posted by: Dearcomrade | Jan 2, 2014 12:05:29 PM

  20. @DEARCOMRADE you're contradicting yourself. Why can an old man have a choice and not a young one? After all we could never know what their future holds beyond their "choices".

    Posted by: Jay | Jan 2, 2014 12:23:04 PM

  21. Jay, I agree with you. No use trying to discuss it with many on here who seem to be as intolerant as those who are anti gay. Tolerant as long as you agree with them, if not they call names.

    Posted by: Karl | Jan 2, 2014 12:28:32 PM

  22. Several big time issues here but...

    he died on his terms in his own time and contributed significantly to the world...can't fault him for that and, having lived to be 87, he had ever right to determine how he wanted to die and why.

    Can't understand something as fantastic as jumping down 16 floors, though.

    Posted by: Chitown Kev | Jan 2, 2014 12:38:02 PM

  23. Sounds to me like Mr Wilson had great courage.

    It's not easy to say, I refuse to be a burden on anyone. I'm gettin' out of here.

    Posted by: Derrick from Philly | Jan 2, 2014 12:39:14 PM

  24. Never met a single religious person who could tell me why they are other than it makes them "comfortable". Never has a single one had the guts to really question their beliefs. And yes, I was brought up religious. I just had the balls to question it and realize it is a bunch of harmful hooey.

    Posted by: mikeydallas | Jan 2, 2014 12:59:40 PM

  25. He didn't know there are some good public schools in New York? e.g. The Bronx High School of Science. The school produced eight Nobel laureates in science. Probably the best school, public or private, in the US.

    Posted by: simon | Jan 2, 2014 2:02:31 PM

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