Isabel Brown Wilson, a champion of the arts, renowned Houston philanthropist and longtime friend of Rice University, died March 27 at the age of 80.
Wilson was the daughter of Houston leaders George R. and Alice Pratt Brown. She served many years as vice president and life trustee of the Brown Foundation and made many contributions to Rice.
In a memo conveying the sad news about Wilson to the Rice community, President David Leebron and Board of Trustees Chair Jim Crownover ’65 wrote, “She was one of a kind, always quick to assist others, to offer encouragement, and to speak out when she thought changes were needed. Her passing is an extraordinary loss for our community, and we extend our deepest sympathies to the entire family.”
Rice’s 100-year history has been fundamentally intertwined with the Brown family. Wilson co-chaired the Art Gallery Patrons Group with her cousin, Louisa Stude Sarofim, and was instrumental in bringing Michael Heizer’s sculpture “45-90-180” to campus in 1984.
Again with the help of Sarofim and Wilson, Rice established a doctoral program in art history, the first of its kind in Houston. Wilson also served as former director of the Rice Design Alliance and, as a close friend of Secretary James A. Baker III, contributed much to Rice’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.
Alongside her husband, Wally Wilson; her sisters, Maconda Brown O’Connor and Nancy Brown Negley-Wellin; and her cousins Louisa Stude Sarofim and Mike Stude, Isabel worked tirelessly for the city of Houston and beyond through her civic and charitable commitments. In particular, her lifelong love of art inspired her service at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, where she served as a trustee and as chairwoman. She received an honorary doctorate of law from Southwestern University in recognition of her philanthropy.