Robert Wilson, the 87-year-old philanthropist who committed suicide Monday morning by jumping 16 stories from his apartment at The San Remo on Central Park West is described by his friends as a "cantankerous" but compassionate man, who was extremely frugal despite starting a hedge fund that made him nearly a billion dollars.
“Robert, for all his money, never took cabs, never took a limo,’’ his neighbor David Tobey told the Post. “He always took the subway. On the few occasions when he did grab a cab, he would usually share a cab with someone in the building. He shared a cab with my wife and insisted that she pay half.”
Wilson's investment firm, Wilson Associates, made him $800 million, and allowed him to move into the $20 million apartment in 1978. The former hedge fund manager gave gifts of over $100 million to the Environmental Defense Fund, the Nature Conservancy, the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the World Monuments Fund.
Wilson, an openly gay atheist, also made a $22.5 million donation to the Inner-City Scholarship Fund for Catholic schools, the largest donation made in the history of the Archdiocese of New York.
From an interview in the Spring 2010 edition of Philanthropy:
“I remember the first time I had lunch with Cardinal Egan,” says Wilson, a touch impishly. “We were finishing up, and he said, ‘Well, now that you’ve given all this money to our schools, I should try to convert you.’ I said to him, ‘Well, Cardinal, if you do, I suppose I should try to convert you. The only problem is that if I succeed, you’ll lose your job.’”
Wilson's friends told the Post that after he had suffered two strokes, he “thought about ways he would [commit suicide]" openly. One noted that by jumping into his building's courtyard, he was ensuring that no one else would be injured: “He would never have put someone else’s life at risk."