The Wilmot Cancer Institute's Office of Advancement exists to raise support and awareness for one of our region's unique health-care resources. The James P. Wilmot Cancer Institute has a rich, close to 40-year history of excellence in patient care, research, education, and community outreach in upstate New York State. It strives to provide outstanding care for people with cancer by offering the latest and most effective therapies in a compassionate setting.
James P. Wilmot Biography
Mr. Wilmot came from meager beginnings to build multimillion dollar aviation and construction businesses. The oldest of seven, his father was an Irish immigrant and tailor. The family moved from Boston to Rochester in 1917 and his father opened a custom clothing shop on East Main Street. During the Depression, Mr. Wilmot worked as a playground supervisor, earning just $35 per week. He was later hired as assistant manager of the Rochester airport, which fostered his love of flying. He created Page Airways, a flight school that grew into an international supplier of planes and charter services with the help of brothers Gerald and John Wilmot.
During World War II, Mr. Wilmot and Ray Hylan ran a flying school in Lafayette, La., for the then-U.S. Army Aircorps. He became a confidante of Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, who soon after the war established the U.S. Air Force. This relationship was to signal the beginnings of close affiliations with influential people, who would seek his advice on critical political issues.
In 1950, he and Claude Wright founded Wilmorite and built some 2,000 suburban Rochester homes in the 1950s. Brothers Robert and William Wilmot, and sons, Thomas and James Wilmot, joined the business, which later focused on commercial and industrial development. Wilmorite built all of the major area malls and several major shopping plazas.
Mr. Wilmot was often described as being forceful and intimidating. Friends and family would argue that he was simply extremely logical and could reinforce his point by force of will. He was also a man of his word, and had difficulty with business associates who did not share that commitment. These traits, while at the core of his business successes, also served to encourage his political dealings. He was often consulted by the famous, and not so famous, primarily for his ability to quickly put his finger on the real problem and recommend a solution.
Mr. Wilmot’s leadership and vision made him a natural for politics. He was heavily involved with the Democratic Party and chaired the fund-raising events for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson’s campaigns. His circle of friends also included Vice President Hubert Humphrey, former Speaker of the House Thomas “Tip” O’Neill, former New York Gov. Hugh Carey, and U.S. Senators Ernest Hollings, Daniel Inouye and Robert Kennedy. Johnson appointed Mr. Wilmot to the National Aeronautic Board. Despite the many hours spent on his business and political dealings, Mr. Wilmot’s family remained his focal point. He enjoyed surrounding himself with his four children (James, William, Thomas and Judy), siblings, and relatives. “He liked nothing better than to have the whole group around him,” said the late Rev. Charles Lavery during Mr. Wilmot’s funeral Mass. “The greatest monument he leaves is the great family spirit that his family possesses.”
That spirit was shaken when his wife, Lorette, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. After several years of treatment, she died in 1976. Four years later, shortly after the long and difficult loss of his brother, John, Mr. Wilmot was diagnosed with an advanced brain tumor. True to his ways, he then spent his remaining time before his death on Aug. 19, 1980, in an attempt to leave behind a meaningful and effective way to fight cancer. He consulted with long-time friend and physician Dr. Jacob Goldstein, and the result was creation of The James P. Wilmot Foundation, which funds the Wilmot Cancer Research Fellowship Program at the Institute.
The crux of the idea, still remaining today, was to foster medical scientists to pursue a career in cancer research. Mr. Wilmot and Dr. Goldstein felt strongly that the most promising avenue to find cures and treatments was in people – smart, young people who are without the reins of financial woes. The proof of their concept is in the successes of the Wilmot Fellows and mentors for the last 25 years. To date, many of the 90 Wilmot Fellows have gone on to assume leading roles in academic and clinical positions around the world, having a profound impact on the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer, which is exactly what he hoped for.
Were he here today, family members say that Mr. Wilmot would indeed be pleased with the progress that has been made by the Wilmot Fellows, but would also endorse a “don’t stop now” approach to the future efforts of the Foundation and its involvement with the Institute. Even with all the progress made in finding better treatments, the surface has only been scratched. The new Cancer Center building, along with the professionals who will use the world-class facility, will only serve to promote Mr. Wilmot’s legacy of finding an effective and logical approach to the fight against cancer.