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In Memoriam: Philanthropist Sibyl R. Golden

Sibyl R. Golden | Photo by Barnard College/Asiya Khaki

Sibyl R. Golden, a philanthropist and former publications editor, died on August 12 at her home in New York City at the age of 64. She will be remembered as someone who seemed to effortlessly connect her interests and work in literature, science, jazz and the environment.

“Sibyl Golden’s generosity and that of the Golden family is truly remarkable,” said Juli Staiano, chief philanthropy officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science. “Her legacy will live on in all of the things that Sibyl made possible.”

Throughout her life, Golden and her family foundation supported a variety of science and environmental organizations, including AAAS. She served as secretary of the American Museum of Natural History in New York and chaired its advisory council for the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation. She also served on the boards or advisory councils of Barnard College, the New York Hall of Science, the Museum of the Hudson Highlands, the Black Rock Forest Consortium, the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, the Hebrew Free Loan Society and the Olive Free Library.

Golden’s interest in science policy and diplomacy was kindled by her father William T. Golden, a former member and longtime treasurer of the AAAS Board of Directors, whose influence helped precipitate several science advisory roles in the U.S. government, including the first science advisors to the President and the Secretary of State, and the creation of the Office of Science and Technology in the Executive Office of the President and the President’s Science Advisory Committee. The AAAS headquarters building in Washington, D.C. is named in his honor.

Sibyl Golden was a constant supporter of efforts to more proactively encourage international science engagement. She even traveled to China in 1978 with the AAAS board to meet with government and scientific leaders before the United States and the People’s Republic of China had established diplomatic relations.   

For the last 14 years, the Golden Fund for Program Innovation at AAAS, begun by William T. Golden and continued by the Golden Family Foundation, provided flexible, early-stage pilot funding for more than 40 projects as a mechanism to implement new activities that may not have been possible otherwise. The Golden Family Foundation contributed more than $9 million to AAAS programmatic activities, enabling the development of communication tools and training for scientists as part of the Communicating Science program, a Chinese-language science news portal for EurekAlert!, fellowships for science writers in developing countries, a short course on science and public policy and educational resources on diversity in science, among many others efforts.

Golden continued her long-standing interest in the mutual reinforcement of science and diplomacy by providing essential funds to support the launch of the AAAS Center for Science Diplomacy in 2008, and continued to support the Center as it expanded its work to convene regular roundtable meetings with international science and diplomatic leaders, develop educational courses, host research scholars and publish the online policy journal Science & Diplomacy.

“Sybil’s commitment to enabling AAAS and the broader scientific community to help support positive relations between countries and to strengthen scientific capacity in diplomacy will not be forgotten,” said Tom Wang, the organization’s chief international officer.