Vale Susan Wakil: Sydney farewells one of its greatest supporters

29 May 2018

Philanthropist Susan Wakil leaves behind a lasting legacy, thanks to her support for education, healthcare and the arts.

Isaac and Susan Wakil

Isaac and Susan Wakil

One of the University of Sydney’s greatest supporters passed away yesterday, leaving behind a legacy that will have a lasting impact on our community.

Susan Wakil AO avoided the spotlight, but her vision and generosity as a philanthropist had a transformative effect on health, education and the arts in Australia. With Isaac Wakil, her husband of more than 60 years who survives her, she gave millions in support to organisations including the University of Sydney.

“Susan and Isaac Wakil have shared a remarkable and loving partnership, and the thoughts of the University go out to the Wakil family in their loss,” said Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Michael Spence.

Thanks to the Wakil’s $35 million gift in 2016 – the largest donation ever received by the University – the health and medical disciplines will soon unite in one purpose-built facility, to be named the Susan Wakil Health Building and due to be completed in 2019. The gift will facilitate greater collaboration between the faculties to deliver better healthcare to millions of people.

Mrs Wakil’s legacy will also live on in the University’s Susan Wakil School of Nursing and Midwifery. Every year, the couple’s generosity funds 12 scholarships to assist nursing students with study, tuition and accommodation.

“My sympathies go out to Isaac Wakil and his family,” said Chancellor Belinda Hutchinson. “Their enormous generosity means Susan’s legacy will now live on in the University’s Susan Wakil Nursing School and Health Building, and the Susan Wakil Scholarship program.”

The thoughts of the University go out to the Wakil family in their loss.
Dr Michael Spence

The Wakils’ success in the clothing industry and in property investments allowed them to give much-needed support to the causes closest to their hearts. As passionate patrons of the arts, they were often seen at exhibitions and the opera. Their $20 million gift to the Art Gallery of NSW’s planned Sydney Modern wing was the biggest cash donation in the institution’s history. Their support of Opera Australia encourages first-time opera-goers to see performances with accessible $20 tickets at the Sydney Opera House and the Arts Centre Melbourne.

They have also funded scholarships to support disadvantaged public-school students to access vocational and tertiary education.

Since arriving in Australia as migrants – Mrs Wakil from Romania and her husband from Iraq – the pair have had a profound impact on their adopted home. On Australia Day in 2017, both were named Officers of the Order of Australia for their service to the community through philanthropy.

It has been a long journey for Mrs Wakil, who left Romania as a child, fleeing the Soviet government with her aunt. Her father was imprisoned in a Siberian gulag for being a landowner, while her mother died after being taken to a Soviet concentration camp.

After this early hardship, Mrs Wakil thrived in Australia. Her husband has spoken previously of the joy the pair took in making a contribution. “Australia is a great country,” he said when their gift to the nursing school was announced. “It’s a good feeling to give something back.”

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