Having had a remarkably wide-ranging career during which he headed companies involved in everything from small aircraft to shipbuilding to cement, Greenwich, Conn., businessman and philanthropist David W. Wallace has some difficulty arriving at a term that neatly sums up his profession. But when pressed, he finally settles on “lucky.”

In a stroke of good fortune for the School of Medicine, Wallace and his wife, Jean McLean Wallace, have donated $6 million to endow two new professorships, adding to three professorships they have previously funded since 2000: the Jean McLean Wallace Professorship, held by Margaret K. Hostetter, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Pediatrics; the Anita O’Keefe Young Professorship of Women’s Health, held by Charles J. Lockwood, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences; and the Robert R. Young Professorship, which is currently unfilled but has been designated for a faculty member involved in research in ophthalmology and visual science.

Largely unrestricted bequests to Yale from John William Sterling in 1920 and Eugene Higgins in 1975 have endowed 10 Sterling Professorships and four Higgins Professorships at the medical school. But the Wallaces’ combined gifts, $13.5 million specifically earmarked to support five professorships, are unprecedented at the School of Medicine.

“The funding of five professorships by a single donor is exceptional in magnitude and places the Wallaces in a small and select group of supporters of Yale School of Medicine,” says Dean and Ensign Professor Robert J. Alpern, M.D. “Their gifts have allowed us to attract key faculty to Yale and will be instrumental in those faculty members’ success.”

Wallace has also been an important donor to his alma mater. Just prior to his 50th reunion, he and Jean gave a $9 million gift for the renovation of Branford College, whose Gothic-style York Street wing is now called Wallace Hall. In all, the Wallaces have donated over $30 million to Yale.

According to David Wallace, a 1948 graduate of Yale’s Faculty of Engineering, the couple’s gifts to the medical school are driven by gratitude for the medical progress they have witnessed in their lifetimes coupled with a recognition that continuing such advances will require substantial funding.

“To have medical progress, you have to feed it money. It’s the nature of the beast. Running labs, doing surveys, it’s all expensive,” Wallace says. “But I think we’re at a point in medicine where we’re making leaps and bounds. In 1900 the life expectancy was about 50 years, but I had a friend die recently at 115! The quality of life has been improved by progress in medicine, and the length of life has been extended.”

Wallace resided in Branford College during his undergraduate career at Yale, which was interrupted by World War II. He served as an officer in the 1st Infantry Division and was awarded the Purple Heart.

After the German surrender, Wallace remained in Germany, where his division oversaw the infrastructure and security for the Nuremberg war crimes trials. He returned to Yale to complete an engineering degree, but soon decided to strike out in another direction. “The one thing I learned in engineering school is that I was not going to be a good engineer, so I went to Harvard Law School,” Wallace says.

Taking a job in New York at the firm of White & Case after graduation “for the magnificent sum of $3,600 a year,” Wallace so impressed his client Robert R. Young, the chairman of Allegheny Corporation, that Young asked him to join his company as general counsel.

From there, Wallace went on to work as a corporate manager at a succession of companies, including United Brands (now Chiquita Banana), Piper Aircraft, Bangor-Punta and Todd Shipyards.

But when he surveys a lifetime of memories, Wallace says that boardrooms never compete with Branford. “Yale was the greatest thing I ever did,” Wallace says. “I loved Yale.”