William K. Lanman, Yale donor, dies

One of the University’s most generous donors, William K. Lanman ’28, passed away in his hospital room in Florida last week. He was 97.

Lanman’s gifts in the past decade have included the construction of the Lanman Center at Payne Whitney Gymnasium, the renovation of several buildings, including Lanman-Wright Hall, and the endowment of two professorships. Administrators said they believe Yale is the primary beneficiary of the remainder of Lanman’s estate, because Lanman has no living spouse and no children. Administrators said they believe the University has already received the bulk of Lanman’s total estate.

Over the last 10 years, Lanman donated $40 million to Yale.

Lanman’s will has not been opened. The will’s contents will be revealed after it is probated in Florida.

Vice President for Development Charles Pagnam said the University will receive notice of the content of Lanman’s will very soon.

The Old Campus dormitory Wright Hall was renamed Lanman-Wright Hall after Lanman donated the funds necessary for its renovation. Lanman’s past donations also funded the renovations of the office of admissions and the history of art building.

Lanman also entirely funded the University’s tercentennial celebration. Administrators had hoped Lanman would be able to visit Yale for the alumni weekend of April 19-22.

University Secretary Linda Lorimer said it is particularly sad that Lanman died during the University’s year-long tercentennial celebration.

“He’s been so supportive of the Tercentennial,” Lorimer said. “It’s sad for me that he won’t be here when we pay tribute to Yale’s most active alumni later this month.”

She added that over the course of that weekend, which is the second of three major tercentennial celebrations, the University will find a way to bring attention to Lanman’s service to the University.

University administrators said they learned of Lanman’s death from his lawyers.

Yale President Richard Levin said he visited Lanman several weeks ago in the hospital. “The Colonel,” as Lanman liked to be known, had broken his hip and was in surgery for three hours. Levin said Lanman never fully recovered from the surgery and developed pneumonia. He will be buried in Arlington National Cemetery, without a funeral.

Administrators said Lanman’s modesty, humor and love for Yale stand out the most to them.

“He was a wonderfully modest, generous person who loved his time at Yale,” Levin said.

He added that Lanman was most proud of his family’s ties with Yale, which date back to the late 18th century. Lanman has two brothers who went to Yale and a great-grandnephew, Fritz Lanman, who is currently a Yale sophomore.

Pagnam said he remembers Lanman’s fondness for golf and travel.

“He was a world traveler [and] he won amateur golf tournaments,” Pagnam said. “He was a real character with a dry sense of humor.”

Pagnam added that Lanman really cared that the University be progressive in regard to the curriculum, student needs and student outlook.

Lanman graduated from the Sheffield Scientific School, a separate undergraduate program within Yale that focused on engineering and science.

The Colonel had an outstanding military career by all accounts. He fought in World War II and earned several prestigious military honors, including the Bronze Star and a U.S. Navy commendation. He retired from the U.S. Marine Corps Aviation in 1955.

Levin said that after Lanman retired from the military, he never dreamed he’d be in a position to be a major donor to the University, but successful real estate and stock market investments put the Colonel in a position to be one of Yale’s most generous donors.

Lorimer said Lanman’s example makes her recall the line from Yale’s alma mater song, “Bright College Years”: “For God, for country and for Yale.”

Administrators said Lanman is distinguished from other donors because he contributed a very high percentage of his total wealth to the University.

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