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Research to Prevent Blindness

In Memoriam: William J. vanden Heuvel

With sadness, Research to Prevent Blindness acknowledges the passing of long-time Board of Trustees member William (Bill) J. vanden Heuvel, who was a dedicated champion for vision research, along with many other causes throughout his career as a United States Ambassador, lawyer, and promoter of human rights.

Mr. vanden Heuvel was involved with RPB from the beginning; then a young attorney, his was the first signature on the formal RPB incorporation papers from 1960 when Jules Stein founded the non-profit organization.

During his long and impressive career, Mr. vanden Heuvel served as Deputy US Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) and as US Permanent Representative to the European Office of the UN. He was an accomplished lawyer, holding the positions of Senior Partner and Counsel to the law firm Stroock & Stroock & Lavan, as well as a Senior Advisor to Allen & Company LLC, an investment banking firm. He held many other positions of significance during his career, including President of the International Rescue Committee; Chairman of the New York City Board of Corrections; and Chairman of the Board of Governors of the United Nations Association.

In December 2011, Mr. vanden Heuvel joined the RPB Board of Trustees, to continue his support of the organization in a leadership role. During his time on the Board, he provided sound advice, participated in special initiatives to help the organization grow, including a strategic assessment related to RPB’s fundraising capabilities, and served as an important link back to RPB’s founders.

Throughout his life, Mr. vanden Heuvel undertook public projects related to his passions for politics and social good. He was the leading force behind the establishment of The Four Freedoms Park on Roosevelt Island in New York, a memorial to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Park brings architect Louis Kahn’s design to fruition nearly 40 years after Mr. Kahn’s death.

The Four Freedoms Park was just one example of the ways in which Mr. vanden Heuvel paid tribute to those that fought to make the world a better place. Another example was his public admiration for Jules Stein, RPB’s founder.

In 2014, RPB gifted the National Eye Institute (NEI) with a bust of Jules Stein (pictured below) created by celebrated sculptor Jacques Lipschitz. At the gifting ceremony, Mr. vanden Heuvel gave a detailed speech about Stein’s legacy and commitment to serving others. 

Jules Stein bust dedication ceremony

From left to right: William vanden Heuvel, former U.S. Ambassador and RPB Board Member; Katrina vanden Heuvel, RPB Board Member and Publisher of The Nation; Brian Hofland, PhD, President of RPB; and Paul Sieving, then-Director of the NEI.

Mr. vanden Heuvel ended his speech with these words: “The fact that you are remembering [Jules Stein] this day, and having this bust left in his remembrance, is a very important thing to all of us who loved him. And it will be a very important thing 50 years from now—when people may forget all or any of us—to be reminded that there was a private citizen who trained in a very special way, took the talents, and commitment, and the energy that made him one of the great business executives of America, and became a philanthropic instrument that enabled his dreams for ophthalmology to come through.”

 Similar words are now being echoed across the world by people who have felt the influence of Mr. vanden Heuvel’s commitment to the causes he believed in.

“Bill was a tireless champion for so many important causes,” said RPB President Brian F. Hofland, PhD. “Throughout his many roles, his impact—on the country, the organizations he served, his family, and many others—has been profound. He will be deeply missed and we at RPB are so grateful for his leadership, his passion, and his friendship.”

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