Clyde Y.C. Wu’56, 1931-2015


Peter Wortsman

Clyde Y.C. Wu, Columbia University’s longest-serving trustee, a longstanding member of the Columbia-Presbyterian Health Sciences Advisory Council, and one of the most generous and farsighted alumni in the history of P&S, died Oct. 7, 2015.

Dr. Wu, clinical professor of medicine emeritus at the Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit, was also a respected cardiopulmonary specialist at Oakwood Hospital in Dearborn, Mich. He served as a member of the Board of Trustees of Columbia University for 13 years, 10 of which he chaired the Health Sciences Committee, overseeing the affairs of the medical center. He also served on the CUMC Board of Advisors.

He and his late wife, Helen, endowed the Clyde and Helen Wu Center for Molecular Cardiology, five professorships, and two assistant professorships. In addition, they sponsored the Clyde and Helen Wu Distinguished Lecture Series and supported many aspects of medical student life, including musical, theatrical, and social activities, and installed a music room in their names at Bard Hall. Their proudest accomplishment was the reestablishment of the relationship between P&S and Peking Union Medical College in Beijing and, through their support of the Sino-American Exchange Program, the fostering of a vigorous exchange of clinical knowledge and expertise between P&S and major medical schools in China, culminating in the endowment of the Wu Family China Center for Health Initiatives.

Born in Hong Kong in 1931, one of nine children, Dr. Wu had a personal and medical odyssey that took him from the hardships and challenges of rural life in the Chinese heartland, where the family fled the Japanese occupation during World War II and where, as a young man, he first felt the calling to medicine, to P&S, where, as one of only two Asian students in his class he fulfilled his boyhood dream of becoming a doctor. His P&S admissions interview with the dean of students, Dr. Aura Severinghaus, made a profound impression on both the interviewee and the interviewer. As a young man, Dr. Severinghaus had been one of a select group of promising medical academics to teach and pursue research on the faculty at PUMC in Beijing. The school was founded in 1921 by the China Medical Board of the Rockefeller Foundation. Dr. Severinghaus warmly welcomed the young applicant, and Dr. Wu never forgot the kindness.

“First putting the stethoscope to my ear,” as he recalled in an alumni profile, “the thump of the human heart was music to my ears, oh my!”

Dr. Wu interned at the University of Rochester and pursued a medical residency and a fellowship in cardiology at Boston City Hospital, where he engaged in research on the biochemical changes caused by cardiac failure, dividing his time between the clinic and the lab. In 1961 he returned to Hong Kong as a lecturer in cardiology at Hong Kong University Medical School, where he helped start up one of the first cardiac catheterization labs. (As a medical student he had rotated through Bellevue, where Dr. André Cournand and Dickinson Richards’23, who shared a Nobel Prize for their development of heart catheterization, were prominent faculty members.) Returning to the States, he joined the faculty in the Department of Medicine at Wayne State University, where he taught and pursued research on cardiac metabolism under Dr. Richard Bing. He also joined and subsequently became chief of the pulmonary division at Oakwood Hospital and served as a principal member of the cardiac catheterization unit at Detroit General Hospital. Following several years of teaching and research, he decided to devote himself to clinical practice full time. In 1973 he became a fellow of the American College of Cardiology and in 1981 achieved the distinction of fellowship in the Royal College of Physicians.

In 1992 the China Medical Board discontinued support for postdoc fellows from Beijing and Hong Kong who wanted to pursue advanced training in America. At the urging of the dean of Hong Kong University Medical School, Dr. Wu’s sister-in-law, Lady Ivy Wu, agreed to step in and lend her support but only if Dr. Wu would act as an adviser. Dr. and Mrs. Wu enthusiastically participated in the selection process. He later decided to select fellows from the ranks of junior faculty in the Department of Medicine at PUMC and other Chinese medical schools and support their training for a year at P&S.

As the culmination of their commitment to P&S and China, Dr. and Mrs. Wu bequeathed a considerable sum to the endowment of the Wu Family China Center for Health Initiatives. Other Wu family members, including Dr. Wu’s brother, Sir Gordon Wu, have likewise lent their support. “Whether our efforts have done any good in the long run, only history will tell,” Dr. Wu once reflected, “but both sides, Columbia and China, have benefited, and this has brought Helen and myself great joy. You cannot do everything in life, but if you choose the things that you like, and do the things that you like, and do the things that have meaning for you, and know that you have done your best, you can be happy.”

Preceded in death by his wife, Helen, Dr. Wu is survived by two sons, both physicians, Roger, a child psychiatrist, and David, a chest specialist, and four grandchildren. He also is survived by a niece, June Wu’96, a member of the P&S faculty.