In Memoriam: Landon T. Clay

Landon Clay, Lavinia Clay, and Charles Ellis in front of portrait of Edwin C. "Jack" Whitehead

Landon and Lavinia Clay and chair of Whitehead Institute's Board of Directors, Charles Ellis (right), stand in front of a portrait of the Institute's founder, Edwin C. "Jack" Whitehead.

Image: Ceal Capistrano/Whitehead Institute

July 31, 2017

Tags: Jaenisch LabYoung LabAwards + Announcements

The Whitehead Institute community has lost Landon Clay, a true friend and an avid supporter of the Institute’s scientific mission and research. He was 91 years old.

In 2001, a colleague at Landon’s investment advisory firm, East Hill Management, first introduced him to Whitehead Institute.  The initial interactions with our scientists greatly impressed Landon, and he began to generously support Whitehead Institute as a member of the Board of Associates.  By the fall of 2006, Landon was elected to Whitehead Institute’s Board of Directors, where he served three terms and worked on the Investment Committee.  In early 2008, it was Landon who recommended that Whitehead Institute more aggressively pursue its intellectual property licensing. That advice directly led to the Intellectual Property Office’s creation, which has garnered important funds for Institute research.  For his wise counsel and many invaluable insights, the Board of Directors elected him to be its Director Emeritus in September 2015.

Landon was not only generous with his time and his advice but also his philanthropy; Landon was Whitehead Institute’s second greatest benefactor, behind the Institute’s founder, Edwin C. “Jack” Whitehead.  He and his wife, Lavinia, established two funds designated for specific aspects of Whitehead’s research: the Clay Fellows Fund at Whitehead Institute, and the Clay Fund for Auto-Immune Study at Whitehead Institute.  The latter supported a collaboration between the labs of Founding Member Rudolf Jaenisch, Member Richard Young, and Former Member Hidde Ploegh to investigate autoimmune and infectious diseases.  Clay and Lavinia also founded the Clay Mathematics Institute in 1998.

Intellectual curiosity fueled both Landon’s personal and professional lives.  He loved Whitehead Institute, its people, and its science, and the annual retreat was a joy for him.  For years, he boarded the Whitehead Institute bus to Waterville Valley along with postdocs and grad students, enjoying the opportunity to chat with his fellow traveling companions on the two-and-a half hour journey.  Even after the bus rides were no longer tenable, Lavinia drove him to the yearly migration.

Landon’s insatiable appetite for knowledge also served him well in business.  After retiring from a long and distinguished career as the chair of Eaton Vance, he founded East Hill Management in 1997, a highly successful investment advisory firm that focuses on early stage companies founded by top scientists in the life sciences.

Over his lifetime, Landon’s keen sense for investment paid off in business, and his backing of Whitehead proved no different.  Several companies spun out of key discoveries that emerged from Clay Fund-supported work, such as Fulcrum Therapeutics, Marauder Therapeutics, and Omega Therapeutics.

As I think about Landon and his tremendous impact on Whitehead Institute, one story in particular comes to mind: a personal tale Landon shared at the Board of Directors meeting where he announced the fund to study autoimmunity.

He said that when he was a young boy growing up in Georgia, he had an opportunity to watch a game at Augusta’s Jennings Stadium between the local Augusta Tigers and the visiting Boston Red Sox.  He said he never forgot the two home runs hit over the fence by a lanky Red Sox prospect with “a beautiful swing”.  It was Ted Williams.

Landon always had a deep appreciation for world-class talent.  He saw Williams as a sparkling gem on that baseball diamond so many decades ago, and he saw another extraordinary treasure in Whitehead Institute’s research, its people, and its mission.  He understood and appreciated Whitehead Institute’s potential and became our partner in countless ways.

We will miss him deeply, and offer Lavinia and the entire Clay family our most heartfelt condolences.


-- David C. Page

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