Reflecting on the life of James D. Wolfensohn, a great inspiration for the MSIF movement
Leading figure within the MSIF movement: a tribute (1933 -2020)
Last updated: 14th December 2020
James D. Wolfensohn, who was Chair of the MS International Federation from 1977 to 1983, has died at the age of 86.
Those who met Wolfensohn couldn’t help but leave their meetings feeling inspired and motivated. He was a force to be reckoned with, holding world-leading positions, all whilst working tirelessly to make the world a better place.
He held the presidency of the World Bank for two terms and showed great commitment to the arts through his chairmanship of Carnegie Hall. This might be what many people remember Wolfensohn for, but it is just one part of his story.
He holds a special place in the history and present of the MSIF movement. His initial connection to MS was through his friendship with the world-renowned cellist, Jacqueline Du Pré, who had progressive MS. Du Pré started to teach Wolfensohn the cello when he was 42, on the condition that he would perform a concert on his 50th birthday. Du Pré’s husband, esteemed conductor and pianist Daniel Barenboim, reminded Wolfensohn of the promise and the birthday concert took place at Carnegie Hall in New York on 1 December 1983.
At his own initiative, further benefit concerts took place, which became the initial fundraisers for MSIF’s research projects. Ever since then, some of MSIF’s research grants have been named after Jacqueline Du Pré. In the spirit of Wolfensohn, they now make it possible for MS researchers from low and middle income countries to undertake placements in, and contribute to the work of, top-research centres around the world.
From supporting MSIF’s engagement with the MS community in China to writing the preface to our 2010 Economic Impact of MS report, Wolfensohn continued to play an important role in the MS community. Ever since the time that he was MSIF’s Chair, he has provided financial support for the work of people with and affected by MS to help them to be active in the global MSIF movement.
Peer Baneke, CEO of the MS International Federation, reflects on his relationship with Wolfensohn :
‘I have met him three times and each time I came away inspired. He did not put himself on a pedestal and was happy to give advice, in a mentoring kind of way (me being 20 years his junior), on the challenges of international collaboration, which for him included not only the World Bank but also his own time as MSIF’s Chair.
‘He was always excited to hear about what was going on. The last time I met him was in January of this year. On that last occasion, he was frail. I am happy to have had the chance to say “thank you” to him on behalf of us all across the global movement!’
Watch a video of Wolfensohn speaking in 2011 about his connection to MS and MSIF’s research awards.