When Bill Rudolf works the telephones and reception rooms cultivating new supporters for The Jackson Laboratory, he heeds the advice of a former acquaintance, the late opera diva Beverly Sills.
I learned so much from her, Bill recalls. "She was the most wonderful philanthropic person you can imagine. I asked her, "How do you do it?' and she said, "Well, you know, I sit with people and I say to them, I'm perfectly willing to take your money, but what I really want is your intelligence, your enthusiasm and your warmth, and people respond.'"
That approach has worked well for Bill in his first year as president and founding member of The National Council, the Laboratory's network of donors and volunteers. The Council, founded in August 2007, has grown to include five chapters--in Maine, Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Naples, Fla.
"Bill has been a great leader as first president of The National Council because he has fully embraced the difficulty of launching something like this," says Joanne Bean, the Laboratory's senior director of development. "No matter what you ask him to do, he'll say, ";Sure, I can do that. Tell me what you need, and I'll do anything.' I wish I had a dozen more of him."
Long Laboratory connections
Bill Rudolf became acquainted with the Laboratory in the 1960s when he and his wife, Edith, built a summer home on Mount Desert Island, Maine, and became neighbors with future Jackson researchers Ken and Beverly Paigen. The Rudolfs sent their son Paul, and daughter, Margaret, to the Laboratory's Summer Student Program as high school students in the 1970s—leading both to become physicians and fueling the family's fervor for the Laboratory.
"The contribution that The Jackson Laboratory makes to the world of science and to the world of progress for human illness is absolutely unique," Bill says.
When a devastating fire destroyed a quarter of the Laboratory's mouse stocks in 1989, Bill joined the Board of Trustees to help overcome the crisis. He remains a trustee today.
"He's been a very sensible and deliberate advisor on the Board," says Ken Paigen. "He has a quite analytical mind."
At the Board's request in 2007, Bill became leader of The National Council. He devotes about two days a week drumming up enthusiasm for the Laboratory. Wherever he goes, Edith is usually at his side.
"It's a family affair," says Joanne Bean. "Both of them equally have a love for the Laboratory and our work."
The Rudolfs have made multiple gifts to the Laboratory and since 1998 have hosted an annual reception to win new friends for the Laboratory.
"In order for philanthropy to be successful — at least for us," explains Edith, "you have to really believe in the institution and be willing to do whatever you can to make the program go forward, and that's what we're interested in doing. For us The Jackson Laboratory encompasses everything we believe in, and thank God we're able to support it."
A Renaissance couple
The Rudolfs are retired and live in an apartment in Manhattan overlooking Central Park. Bill, a graduate of New York University's law school, forged a successful career as an executive in the metals, oil and petrochemical trading business. He is passionate about classical music, a love passed on by his father, Max Rudolf, an eminent conductor, teacher and musicologist who conducted several opera companies and symphonies including the New York Metropolitan Opera. He also volunteers with the non-profit National Committee on American Foreign Policy.
Edith, a graduate of the State University of New York system, worked at the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum as an art researcher and has served on various boards and committees for SUNY, MDI Biological Laboratory and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. She curates the couple's art collection, an assemblage that includes about three dozen Italian drawings from the Renaissance to the 18th century.
But the Rudolfs' greatest "hobby" is their eight grandchildren. "We spend lots of time with them," Edith says. "We enjoy our family very much."
Those who know the Rudolfs marvel at their love for one another and their concern for humanity.
"As a couple they are a rare find. They are 100 percent devoted to each other in every capacity," Joanne Bean says. "They finish each other's sentences. They know exactly what the other is thinking."
"Bill and Edith are people with a deep moral sense, a very deep moral sense," says Ken Paigen. "And what happens to humanity is more than important to them; it comes through in almost anything you talk about with them. And it's not an intellectual thing; it's a gut thing. It's from inside them. And I think it pervades their lives. I find it, as a friend, enormously appealing. These are people I want to be with."