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The Wilcox Legacy

Continuing the story of Gary Wilcox ’69, ’72, trustee and dedicated campus leader

The moment that Gary Wilcox met Susan Scott on an Isla Vista beach in 1969 was special — the couple married that December. Combined, they earned six degrees from UC Santa Barbara. UCSB set the scene for the early milestones in their lives, and in return, Gary and Sue Wilcox dedicated decades of leadership and philanthropy to their alma mater. Gary passed away in May 2021, but the family’s love for UCSB will endure through their lasting impact and Sue’s continued service.

“UC Santa Barbara was such a major part of our early lives that returning was easy,” said Sue. “Learning how to give back seemed to come naturally.”

Gary and Sue Wilcox in 1972.
Gary and Sue Wilcox in 1972

Gary earned his bachelor’s in cellular and organismal biology (’69) and his master’s and Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular biology (’72). Sue earned a bachelor’s in mathematics (’70) and a master’s and Ph.D. in economics (’72, ’75). They left Santa Barbara to pursue rewarding careers: Gary as a UCLA professor and Sue as an economist at Atlantic Richfield Co. In 1982, Gary, Sue, and five UCLA faculty members launched the biotechnology company Ingene. It would be the first of many startups they accelerated with Gary’s scientific expertise and Sue’s efforts.

Gary joined the UC Santa Barbara Foundation Board of Trustees in 1997. After the buyout of their biotech company Icos, the Wilcoxes moved back to Santa Barbara. Now, Gary and Sue could fulfill their philanthropic vision for their alma mater. With their experience in startup biotech companies, Gary and Sue became involved with the Technology Management Program. Sue assisted faculty and staff with an assessment that led to an official program in technology management while Gary provided guidance, advice, and encouragement to fledgling entrepreneurs.

“We try to look for where there is leverage so we help more than one person,” said Sue. “Professors have the most influence and can do the most for students.”

That is the philosophy behind the family’s faculty support. One endowed chair led to another, and now there are four: the Wilcox Family Chair in Biotechnology, the Wilcox Family Chair in BioMedicine, the Wilcox Family Presidential Chair in Molecular Biology, and the Wilcox Family Chair in Entrepreneurial Economics. Recently, the Wilcoxes endowed a graduate fellowship for each of the chairs.

“Gary was a valued friend and mentor to me,” said Dennis O. Clegg, Wilcox Family Chair in Biomedicine. “He was a wellspring of knowledge about molecular biology, biotechnology, and just about everything else, too. He and the Wilcox family have had an incredibly positive impact on the campus and the community. He will always be a role model as a successful father, husband, academic, biotechnologist, and all around good guy.”

Gary was a passionate campus advocate who delighted in introducing his distinguished network to campus. In 2006, Gary rallied his friends to lead a campaign in honor of his colleague George Rathmann, whose work helped revolutionize drug discovery. The George and Joy Rathmann Graduate Fellowship supports the top incoming graduate students to the higher interdisciplinary programs in molecular, cellular and developmental biology and the interdepartmental biomolecular science and engineering program. This is just one example of Gary’s ability to bring people together to effect change.

“We had the special opportunity to recognize George and encourage others who might not know UC Santa Barbara to get involved,” said Sue.

Gary remained busy doing the work that he loved developing drugs for unmet medical needs, recently focusing on antiviral drugs and drugs for amyloid diseases. At UC Santa Barbara, he was the 1994 commencement speaker, an adjunct professor, member of the Science Dean’s Cabinet, and a mentor to faculty and students alike. He especially enjoyed trustee meetings, where he learned what is happening at the university and talked with like-minded supporters. The Wilcox family are members of UC Santa Barbara’s Gold Circle Society.

“The friends that we made here, the opportunities to help students, the enjoyment of being back on campus… that has been the most rewarding part,” said Sue.

Gary and Sue Wilcox.
Gary and Sue Wilcox

Sue was on the UCSB Alumni Board of Directors, where she assisted in the conceptualization and realization of the New Venture Incubator built on the first floor of the Mosher Alumni House. She is also a member of the Department of Economics Board of Advisors and the Science Dean’s Cabinet. She received the Graver Alumni Service Award in 2019. Although Gary passed away in May 2021, his legacy will be carried on by Sue; their sons, John and David ’07; the holders of the Wilcox Family chairs; their fellowship-supported graduate students; and all the students they will influence. According to Sue, it was always a fun challenge for the Wilcoxes to think about where a contribution to UC Santa Barbara could best be used and feel fulfilling. For she and Gary, giving to the university was not just financial. Working with students and faculty was energizing and rewarding.

“Just knowing that there’s something that can be made to happen is thrilling. Trying to discover what that something is — that’s as much fun as making it happen,” said Sue.