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Newcomb alumna memorializes son with faculty position in psychiatry

Josephine Wander Westlake (NC ’35) leaves bequest of more than $2.5 million to Tulane University 

Wander Garcia
The late Venancio Antonio Wander Garcia, IV (photo courtesy of Sharon Westlake)


November 12, 2012

Mary Sparacello

From an early age, Venancio Wander Garcia knew he wanted to be a doctor. He was in the U.S. Air Force medical residency program studying to become a psychiatrist when his promising career was cut tragically short.

In February 1965, Garcia, his wife and their infant son were killed in a commercial airplane crash. He was just 29 years old.

Garcia’s mother, the late Josephine Wander Westlake (NC ’35), chose to memorialize her son by establishing an endowed faculty position in his name at the Tulane University School of Medicine.  Westlake died in February 2011 and left more than $2.5 million to support the Venancio Antonio Wander Garcia, IV, MD and Helen Josephine Wander Westlake Endowed Fund.

The gift supports an endowed chair in the Tulane Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Magnifying the value of the gift, Tulane has received $800,000 in matching support from the Louisiana Board of Regents Eminent Scholars program, and will apply for another $800,000 match during the upcoming 2012-2013 funding cycle.   

Serious about medicine 
Sharon Westlake says her stepbrother’s dedication to medicine and helping others was but one facet of his well-rounded personality. Garcia was a playful person who published poetry and played the piano and violin. His true musical talent was operatic singing. He sang tenor in numerous operas in Berkeley, California and San Francisco, often landing lead roles. He even lifted weights to increase his lung capacity for singing.   

“He was interested in (medicine), but he was much more than just that,” Westlake says.   

Garcia was not the only gifted musician in the family; Josephine Westlake received a bachelor’s degree in music from Newcomb College in 1935. She met Garcia’s father while she was at Newcomb and he was a dental student. They married and had one son, but the elder Garcia died when he was only 39.   

Josephine Westlake moved to California when she was in her 40s. She taught piano lessons and was an accomplished pianist, performing and staying active in the concert and opera community in the San Francisco area until her death at the age of 97.   

“Music was a huge part of her life,” her stepdaughter says.  

Profound impact 
Shortly after Venancio Garcia’s death, Josephine Westlake decided to set up a fund in his memory and give the money to Tulane. She never wavered in her vision for the fund, and when she learned about Louisiana’s Eminent Scholars program, she was inspired by the opportunity to maximize the effect of her gift.   

The Westlake bequest will have a profound impact on Tulane’s psychiatry and behavioral sciences department, says Dr. Daniel Winstead, current department chairman. Tulane will undertake a national search to find a chair holder with an impressive research portfolio. The university’s team of adult and child psychiatrists already play a major role in providing mental health care across Louisiana, Winstead says, and the Wander Garcia Chair will only strengthen Tulane’s position as the leading provider of psychiatric services for the state and region.   

“It makes a big difference when we have this kind of capital to work with,” says Winstead.   

Sharon Westlake is confident her stepbrother, with his diverse interests and abundant talents, would have contributed greatly to medical thought. The chair in his name means even after his death, his life will continue to have an impact.   

“He was an exceptional person,” Westlake says. “I always considered him amazing.”   

To support endowed scholarships at Tulane University, you can contribute to a previously endowed fund or establish your own, add to it over the years or even include it in your estate plan. Contact Gift Planning at Tulane to discuss the possibilities.   

Mary Sparacello is a writer in the Office of Development.



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