A Better Place: The Needlemans, A Life In Science And Philanthropy

“It’s no mystery. Don’t we all want to leave the world a better place?”

Phil Needleman, PhD, is thinking about motivations—why he supports the causes that mean something to him and Sima, his wife of 63 years; also, why he got into science.

“If you’re curious and want to learn and turn over new rocks, there’s no better place than scientific research.”

Needleman parlayed that curiosity into a career in pharmacology. After serving as chair of the department at Washington University in St. Louis, he moved to industry, where he would eventually oversee the research behind the anti-inflammatory drug Celebrex™. “To do medical research is a way to improve the human condition too, so that Danforth Center mission has always meant something to me.”

Sima and Phil Needleman receiving the White Coat Award from their friend Bill Danforth (left), founder of the Danforth Center.

A Long Friendship

In 1964, Phil had just started his postdoctoral fellowship at Washington University when he met a young cardiologist named Bill. “He and I used to park at Steinberg Ice Rink to avoid the med school parking fee.”

The colleagues became friends, having important discussions while walking up the hill to the Medical Center campus. Years later, when Bill Danforth had set his vision for the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in motion, Phil and Sima supported him without question, even when, one day, Bill called Phil and asked to meet for coffee. “I just said ‘Bill, the answer is yes. You can tell me later what you’ve gotten me into.’” Needleman had committed to serve as interim president of the Center and to help identify and recruit Jim Carrington!

Phil Needleman and Bill Danforth with the Cardinals’ mascot, Fredbird in 2010

A Legacy Of Giving

Today, Phil is a long-serving member of the Danforth Center board, currently as vice chair. In addition to the Needleman’s annual giving, Phil and Sima made a significant gift in honor of Bill Danforth’s 90th birthday in 2016 and have recently made the founding gift for the SINC center of excellence.

It knocks my socks off, the comprehensiveness of what Bill Danforth created. I hope that others feel as inspired by his legacy as I do.

Phil Needleman, PhD, Vice Chair, Donald Danforth Plant Science Center


You Can Make a Difference

Science can do incredible things. But you don’t need to be a scientist to make a difference in the world. By supporting the work of the Danforth Center, you can play a key role in creating a better future. Click here to give today.


A version of this story originally appeared in the Leaflet, the free newsletter of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. Sign up to receive more stories like this straight to your inbox.