Caroline Wiess Law - in her estate - donated $25 million to BCM, one of the largest single gifts ever given to the College.
Whether it was Miro or Warhol, Caroline Wiess Law knew art. She was passionate about the many masterpieces she ran across in her lifetime of commitment to supporting fine arts.
She was equally ardent in her quest to enhance the human condition through her generous gifts to academic medicine. She understood that the art of medicine was crucial to improving lives, just as the Great Masters were inspiration to our souls.
Law's generosity put her at the top of the Chronicle of Philanthropy and Slate magazines' annual census of the nation's biggest donors, entering her on the list in the number four position with a $450 million bequest.
The primary beneficiary of her estate - the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (MFAH) - received $400 million, and Baylor College of Medicine and The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center were privileged to receive $25 million each. BCM counts this as one of the largest single donations ever given to the College.
Mrs. Law and her family have had a longstanding relationship with the College. Since the early 1970s, she and her husband, Theodore "Ted" Newton Law, contributed more than $5.1 million to BCM, with gifts designated specifically for the Departments of Medicine, Neurology, Neurosurgery, Ophthalmology, and Otorhinolaryngology, as well as for the DeBakey Heart Center. Mrs. Law also established several endowed research funds in these areas, along with the Olga Keith Wiess Chair of Surgery. Additionally, the Caroline Wiess Law Foundation made several gifts totaling more than $750,000 to Baylor.
Mrs. Law's largest gift to the College, the $25 million named in her bequest, was given for the establishment of a permanent fund named The Caroline Wiess Law Endowment for Academic Excellence at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Peter G. Traber, BCM President and CEO recently established a committee charged with honoring Law's desire to advance academic excellence at the College.
Chaired by BCM Chancellor Dr. Bobby R. Alford, the committee will actively recruit new faculty members who are mid-career physicians/scientists and who have been recognized for their outstanding accomplishments in collaborative interdisciplinary translational research. Selection will be based on broad biomedical interests and the ability to translate and transform scientific discovery effectively into clinical application. "This incredible endowment has allowed us to create a unique program that we believe will attract to Baylor College of Medicine the best minds in the country as Caroline Wiess Law Scholars," said Traber.
Mrs. Law had often told friends she thought it would be "wonderful to die on my birthday." Her passing came on the morning of December 24, 2003, her 85th birthday. While her philanthropy was broad-based, she had become best known as an international art collector and patron of the arts. She loved all the arts and generously supported the Houston Ballet, Houston Grand Opera, and the Houston Symphony. Law also was a leading donor to the fund drive that established the Menil Collection in the 1980s.
Her greatest love was the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston - where she served on virtually every committee - and her main passion was modern art. Law was a serious collector of twentieth century art, including major works by great artists such as Willem de Kooning, Pablo Picasso, Arshile Gorky, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Mitchell, Andy Warhol - who painted her portrait - Joan Miro, and Mark Rothko, as well as innovative works by lesser-known talents such as Christopher Wilmarth and Jim Love.
Mrs. Law never formally specified what qualities led her to choose one work of art over another. Her selection process was based on viewing thousands of paintings and sculptures during her lifetime, continually refining and expanding her tastes throughout the years. Rather than embracing one certain formal quality in a work of art, she responded to the "spirit" of the piece, which she drew from the strength or liveliness that resides in the art. For her, each work had to express a clarity and flair that resonated with confidence or purpose. She approached all of her humanitarian endeavors with the same concept, selecting those organizations and funding those projects that showed the most promise and purpose for the betterment of society as a whole.
Her passion for art came to her naturally. Her parents - Harry C. Wiess, founder of Humble Oil & Refining Company, and Olga Keith Wiess - were part of the original "start-up" team for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 1924. Mrs. Wiess became a lifetime trustee of the museum and funded the institution's Harry C. Wiess Gallery in memory of Caroline's father.
Mrs. Law attended Kinkaid School, Ethel Walker School, and Sarah Lawrence College and, in 1946, she married William Francis, a partner in the Houston law firm of Vinson, Elkins, Weems & Francis. In 1957, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Defense by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and the couple moved to Washington, D.C. The following year, he died at the age of 44 from a heart attack, and Mrs. Law returned to Houston.
Two years later, she married Theodore (Ted) Newton Law, founder of Falcon Seaboard Drilling Company and Mid-Continent Airlines, which merged with Braniff Airways in 1952. Her husband was a member of the Board of Governors of Rice University and the Board of Visitors at The University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center. After his death in 1989, Mrs. Law continued to honor his legacy of commitment to these institutions.
Her outstanding gift to Baylor College of Medicine - as well those to the countless other institutions she so generously supported throughout her remarkable life - is a testament to the commitment she had to the culture, history, education, and future of Houston.