Wesley M. Dixon Jr., a pharmaceutical executive, over the years chaired the boards of leading arts, health and educational institutions in the Chicago area, including the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
"Wes was the most important businessperson in the history of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago," said its president and CEO, Joanne C. Smith. "We've only been an entity for 60 years, and Wes was on our board for 56 years.
"He became chair of our board in the 1960s and raised the capital for our first building, within four years and with no debt. Wes knew instinctively in terms of what our organization needed in terms of building blocks to give it a sustainable future."
Mr. Dixon, 86, an executive at the pharmaceutical firm G.D. Searle & Co., died at his Lake Forest home Friday, Jan. 17, said Bryan Dunn, a family spokesman. Dunn declined to provide the cause of death.
Born in Evanston, Mr. Dixon was the grandson of Silas Strawn, one of the founders of the law firm Winston & Strawn. His father, Wesley M. Dixon Sr., was the Container Corporation of America's chairman and CEO in the early 1960s.
Mr. Dixon attended Hotchkiss School in Connecticut and received a bachelor's degree from Yale University in 1950. After serving in the Air Force, Mr. Dixon worked for Owens-Illinois for five years.
In 1953, Mr. Dixon married Suzanne Searle, whose family controlled G.D. Searle. The following year, he joined Searle as a foreign trade assistant. He advanced quickly and was vice chairman at the time of Searle's sale to Monsanto in 1985.
Mr. Dixon joined the Art Institute's board of trustees in the 1960s, became chairman in 1993 and later a life trustee. He and his wife gave money and artwork to the museum. In 2002, they donated an 18th-century work by English landscape artist John Robert Cozens, "The Valley of the Eisak near Brixen in the Tyrol."
"It is perhaps unnecessary to say that he, as a life trustee and former chairman of the board, was a long-standing and fierce supporter of the museum," said Art Institute President Douglas Druick. "But his titles do not reflect the infectious energy and humor with which he led his fellow trustees and all of us within his orbit."
Mr. Dixon chaired the Rehabilitation Institute's board in the 1960s and 1970s. Once he completed the major fundraising campaign to construct its building, he chaired the hospital's first foundation and aided its path forward.
"Wes helped to enable a culture where we could entrepreneurially create laboratories and thought leadership discovery in a field of medicine that had none prior to it," Smith said. "He also gave his time and his personal resources and experience to help us to grow, when it came to research, education and training, and governance."
Smith recalled Mr. Dixon as a decisive leader.
"Wes knew what he was doing," she said. "He didn't need all the analytics in the world before he made a decision. He listened to logic, took into account all the opinions and would lead the charge. People just automatically followed him."
At Lake Forest College, Mr. Dixon was a trustee for 50 years. He chaired multiple fundraising campaigns, including one in 1993 that generated $41 million, and he helped fund a science and research center that bears his family's name, the recently built Moore Hall residence building, an endowed technology fund and an endowed faculty chair.
"Wes Dixon was certainly one of the greatest trustees in our history, chairing the board for two terms and generously, enthusiastically supporting every major campus project in recent decades," said Lake Forest College President Stephen Schutt.
Mr. Dixon and his wife donated $20 million in 2007 to Northwestern Memorial Hospital for research to help translate research laboratory experiments into bedside treatments. He also chaired Lake Forest Hospital's board from 1974 until 1976. Northwestern acquired Lake Forest Hospital in 2010.
"Wes was instrumental in establishing Lake Forest Hospital as a pillar of our community," said Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital President Thomas McAfee. "His unique blend of leadership, generosity and passion for health care influenced success that is still being realized by the hospital today."
Mr. Dixon also helped to fund the construction of Lake Forest Hospital's Health and Fitness Institute, which opened in 1993.
Peter Bower, the hospital's director of philanthropy, noted Mr. Dixon's vision for the hospital, even during financial challenges in the 1970s.
"He was a strong leader who saw how the demographics were changing," Bower said. "And he foresaw upcoming changes within the health care industry and changes in how the hospital should benefit the area."
Mr. Dixon also is survived by his wife; two daughters, Karie Thomson and Carolynn Loacker; a son, John; five grandchildren; and one great-grandson.
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