At 85, Stanley Simbonis, M.D., a 1957 graduate of Yale School of Medicine (YSM), can recall his medical school days with enviably sharp precision. Of his experience with the “Yale System” of medical education, which prizes students’ independence and their original research, he says: “At Yale, you know what you have to do. They treat you like adults.”
But Simbonis’ fondest words are reserved for YSM’s Harvey Cushing/John Hay Whitney Medical Library, an institution that has long played a large role in his life. As a medical student, Simbonis took a year off to do research, and spent a good deal of time in what was then known as the Yale Medical Library. Almost half a century later, in 2003, he became one of the library’s 16 elected trustees, a position he still holds.
Now, in a gesture that reflects his debt of gratitude to Yale and his fundamental regard for the library’s role in the life of YSM, Simbonis has made a gift of more than $1.1 million in annuities, whose income will be available for use after his death at the discretion of the library’s director.
“It was an easy gift to make, because I have great respect and love for the library,” Simbonis says. “A library is the guts of any university. Without a library, you don’t have a university.”
Says R. Kenny Marone, MLS, director of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library, “Great libraries are not made, they’re nurtured. Stan is proud of the work the library is doing. He is able to remember the help he needed from the library [as a student], and he can see that the library is continuing its good work with students.”
The library’s recent innovations include its “personal librarian” program, in which medical students are paired with one of its librarians, giving them personalized research support; and efforts to keep apace with today’s sweep toward digitalization. The digitalization of medical journals, in particular, has resulted in new subscription models that mean substantially higher subscription costs for the library.
“Stan understands the importance of collections from a student perspective. I think he could see that by giving to the library, he wasn’t only giving for right now, but he was giving to future generations of students,” says Marone, also associate university librarian for research support and collections at the Yale University Library. In a display of appreciation for Simbonis support, on April 25 the Medical Library staff dedicated a conference room to Simbonis, naming it the Dr. Stanley Simbonis Conference Room.
In addition to supporting an institution whose history is intertwined with his own, the gift is “one way of paying Yale back,” Simbonis says.
Born in Manhattan in 1928 to emigrants from Greece, Simbonis grew up in a tenement apartment in the Bronx with his mother and brother. He had not heard of Yale, he says, until his mother married and moved to New Haven. After four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, he was admitted to Yale College, which he attended with support from the G.I. Bill and scholarships.
Following his graduation in 1953, Simbonis entered YSM, where his tuition was covered entirely by scholarships. “Out of pocket I may have spent $100. They were very good to me,” he says. After graduating he worked in the New York University lab of biochemist Severo Ochoa, M.D., who won the 1959 Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology for his discovery of an enzyme that can synthesize RNA.
Following stops at Columbia University and Holy Name Hospital in Teaneck, N.J., Simbonis settled down at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Paterson, N.J., where he became chair of pathology. He retired in 1992 but remains an associate clinical professor of pathology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Since 1975 Simbonis has lived in a historic brownstone in Greenwich Village, New York City, where he is active in neighborhood preservation. For many years he also owned a vacation home on Fire Island, N.Y., which he has recently donated to the medical school. The home will be sold and the proceeds divided between the library and a scholarship to be set up in his name.