William Stubing, former president of the Greenwall Foundation and a leader in advancing bioethics, dies

William Stubing, former president of the Greenwall Foundation and a leader in advancing bioethics, dies

Bill -- no one called him William -- was not only a great colleague but a dear friend. I shall miss him. Here is his obituary.

William C. Stubing, former President of The Greenwall Foundation and beloved friend, died on October 4, 2015.  He was a deeply religious and generous person whose intellectual and artistic interests were as broad as the good works and impact that his life made on many people and institutions. He was a singular force in building a robust field of biomedical ethics in the United States, by supporting leading edge research and career development for the most gifted scholars. Under his leadership, the Foundation was willing to be bold and take risks of supporting potentially controversial areas of inquiry, a strategy that proved enormously successful, enabling Greenwall to have extraordinary national impact for a relatively small foundation.

Mr. Stubing’s tenure as president began when Oscar Reubhausen, a prominent New York attorney and advisor to Nelson Rockefeller, was representing Frank Greenwall in his search for a President to lead the Frank and Anna Greenwall family foundation’s efforts to build a bioethics program. Mr. Reubhausen found in Mr. Stubing the integrity of character, the wide ranging intellectual curiosity, the interpersonal graciousness and elegance of style that were needed to lead the foundation through the transition from a broad agenda of  medical research, the arts and education, to a professional foundation that achieved its current unique prominence among biomedical and healthcare philanthropies.  

Stubing and Reubhausen believed the foundation would have more impact focused on areas where there were few other philanthropic resources. In addition to bioethics, this included a focus on emerging arts in New York City that sustained and supported thousands of creative accomplishments  in the fine and the performing arts. 

He recruited a remarkable group of board members, leaders in education, philanthropy, science, business and the arts, who enjoyed their board service because of the collegial environment he created and nurtured, exemplified by the brilliant, carefully researched and written essays he prepared for each board meeting, addressing current issues in arts, education, biomedical science and moral thought. Mr. Stubing led the board in a focus on supporting people, creating fellowships and career development awards, the Greenwall Faculty Scholars Program, that supported scores of young people, many of whom became leaders making contributions to the humanistic and moral dimensions of biomedical advances and health care. His suggestions and encouragement contributed to the success of many grantees, enriching their work and their lives in the process.

He guided the Foundation through the challenges of economic downturns with an eye to using its resources to contribute to social good. His broad intellectual interests, warmth, understated sense of humor, and skills as a raconteur suffused his interactions with grantees, staff, and directors and made working with the Foundation a pleasure for all. He embodied an unusual combination of worldly sophistication, humility, humor and interest in others.  Those same attributes nourished his close friendships and personal life. He enthusiastically shared his deep knowledge of the history, religion, architecture, and arts scene of New York City and his beloved haunts in London, Scotland and Paris, with all of us, enriching our lives.

His skills as a listener and host were honed while in seminary, but not always in a church.  During a summer break, he was offered a position with the Swedish American Line as Protestant Chaplain aboard one of their ships.  The company realized that they had booked two Protestant Chaplains and had to rescind the offer, but asked him instead to be a shore trip director, although he would not be expected to dance with the passengers.  The young seminarian readily accepted the job without the caveat and charmed the passengers, not only with his graciousness and conversation (and dancing), but also with his organizational and administrative skills.  He continued to work for the line for several years.

He also used his liturgical, pastoral and administrative skills as non-stipendiary priest at Saint Peter’s Church at Citicorp, a position he held while at the New York Academy of Medicine.  At that time, he worked with the vestry to find a new rector of the church, a position in which then-Lutheran Richard John Newhouse was very interested.  Father Stubing had admired Newhouse in the sixties, but he and the vestry felt that Newhouse was not quite right for the liberal-leaning Saint Peter’s.  Richard Newhouse later became a Roman Catholic and a voice for conservative positions.

Mr. Stubing also changed denominations, being received into the Episcopal church in the 1980s. With one eye on heaven and one planted solidly on earth, he became a favorite of friends and family, called upon when they needed someone in whom they could confide.  They found a gracious and generous listener, wise counselor – and superb host.

Born  Sept. 28, 1939, he was educated at Concordia Senior College, and graduated from Concordia Seminary.  He earned his Masters at the New York University School of Education, after which he became a teacher and headmaster of Grace School in Teaneck, New Jersey.  His education background led him to the American Medical Association in Chicago, but he returned East in 1978, where he led the New York Academy of Medicine, first as Executive Secretary of the Committee on Medical Education, then, beginning in 1986, as Director of the Academy, the only non-physician to have held that post in its then 138 year history.  During his tenure,  he refined and expanded his interest in the artistic and humanistic aspects of medical science and health care. He eventually worked with board members to modernize the structure of the Academy and eliminated his own job, combining the positions of Director and President.  Upon his return East to New York, he also met his partner of thirty-seven years, Ronald Thomas, who survives him. They married in 2013.