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Meet Marilyn Simons, the Bricklayer’s Daughter Who Became a Philanthropist

Math, science, and autism research are among the causes of the Ph.D. economist, who’s married to billionaire hedge fund manager James Simons.

“I had a lot of bricklayers in my family,” laughs Marilyn Hawrys Simons. “At various times, my father, a couple of uncles, my brother, my cousin, all worked laying brick.” They built some of the original structures of Stony Brook University in New York’s Long Island. Now she is the one building Stony Brook, this time with money. The bricklayer’s daughter grew up to be a woman of great wealth and became president of one of the nation’s leading philanthropic foundations. 

Simons, 68, the wife of hedge fund billionaire James Simons, has rarely spoken with the press. (“Can’t you tell?” she asks.) She gave an exclusive interview to Bloomberg Businessweek to discuss a personal gift of $25 million to the economics department of Stony Brook, which brings total giving to the school by her, her husband, and their Simons Foundation to more than $300 million. Her gift will be used to develop a pipeline for underrepresented minorities and women in economics and to establish a center for applied economics and policy, among other purposes.