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Hilda Lewis and Prof. Benny Shilo

People behind the science

Date: September 27, 2015
Weizmann Magazine Vol. 8

On the occasion of Hilda Lewis’ 90th birthday, she looked back on her many years of philanthropy for, and friendship with the Weizmann Institute, most of which were carried out in partnership with her late husband Cecil, who passed away in 2005.

It is a legacy that has continued with her children, Robert Lewis and Cathy Wills. The family resides in London where Weizmann Magazine interviewed Hilda.

The professorial chair she and Cecil established in 2002, the Hilda and Cecil Lewis Professorial Chair in Molecular Genetics, led to a close friendship with Prof. Ben-Zion Shilo. Although the couple gave generously to many areas at the Institute, it may have been the one that Hilda most enjoyed because of the friendship that developed around it.

The couple also established the Hilda and Cecil Lewis Solar Laser Development Laboratory and contributed to the Center for Experimental Physics. They created a student scholarship, and supported students from the former Soviet Union soon after they arrived in Israel in the 1990s. In recent years, Hilda has given generously to the research of Prof. Eran Segal, who has a joint appointment in the Department of Molecular Cell Biology and the Department of Computer Science and Applied Math.

The Lewises, who are from the UK, began their relationship with the Weizmann Institute in the late 1980s, and Cecil was elected to the International Board (then the Board of Governors) in 1989. For years, they were regular attendees of the annual Board events. In 2003, the Institute was to have recognized Cecil with an honorary PhD, but he fell ill and could not travel to Israel to receive the honor. Hilda received an honorary PhD in 2009. Driving the duo, always, was their commitment to Israel and the Jewish people, and to science.

Cecil was “a great intellectual and interested in everything,” says Hilda. “Archaeology was one of his greatest passions and it was this that led him to want to fund science and academic study.”

The Lewises gave generously to many institutions and organizations in the U.K. and Israel, but the Weizmann Institute has always been close to their heart, and continues to be close to Hilda’s—even ten years after her husband’s passing. “Why Weizmann?” Hilda asks rhetorically. “Because there is nobody who does what they do. I am enormously proud to have been part of the Weizmann story. The scientists do a wonderful, important job.”

“I have been so fortunate to live a remarkable life full of philanthropy,” she continues. “I wanted my children to know about Israel and the Institute and to be part of it. It was important to me that that I could pass this down through the generations to my children and I hope that my grandchildren will also get involved with Weizmann.” One of her best memories, she says, was her induction into the President’s Circle in Chicago in 2007, which she attended with son Robert.

It was then that Robert became interested in the research of Prof. Dan Yakir of the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, who investigates forests and climate change; he and his sister have since given generously to support Prof. Yakir’s research. In 2012, Cathy, who is an art curator, managed a large exhibition of artwork from around the world at the then-new David Lopatie Conference Centre, with great fanfare.

“It is a true pleasure to know Hilda,” says Prof. Shilo. “She has an open and adventurous spirit and is always looking for new excitements. My interactions with her over the years, during her visits to the Weizmann Institute or my visits to London, were always very personal and warm, and most of all filled with a lot of fun and laughter. The Lewis Chair provided me not only with support for my research, but also with a close connection to a wonderful, warm family which I came to know well over the years.”


Prof. Ben-Zion Shilo is funded by M.D. Moross Institute for Cancer Research, Carolito Stiftung, The Mary Ralph Designated Philanthropic Fund. Prof. Shilo is the incumbent of the Hilda and Cecil Lewis Professorial Chair of Molecular Genetics.

Prof. Dan Yakir (right) with Robert Lewis

Prof. Dan Yakir (right) with Robert Lewis

Hilda with Prof. Shilo in London

Hilda with Prof. Shilo in London