Sebastian Wanless


Dr. Richard Sebastian Wanless

Short Biography of Richard Sebastian Wanless

Being born in the 1950’s in Edinburgh, Scotland, I was a youthful witness to the efforts of a population determined to mitigate the austerity of war and rediscover the city’s cultural vibrancy, enshrined in its heritage as the cradle of the Scottish Enlightenment.  The Edinburgh Festival, launched in 1947, was in full swing and from an early age I proudly relished the international prestige it conferred on the city.  Enrolled at the Royal High School, I was constantly reminded of the institution’s ancient and illustrious history, having been founded in 1128 and having provided a classical education to the majority of the impresarios of the Edinburgh Enlightenment.  The teaching regimen was rigorous and strict. However, taking advantage of Scotland’s adherence to renaissance education, and leaving the school in 1973, fluent in French and Russian, knowledgeable about English literature and well versed in the sciences and mathematics, I was matriculated at Edinburgh Medical School, another bastion of enlightened thinking since the 18th. century.  

To offset the rather dry nature of medical studies, I managed to pursue simultaneously study of Russian language and literature by enrolling in the University’s course in Soviet Studies.  In 1974 this led to work during summer vacations as a guide for Soviet students visiting the United Kingdom and through this, in 1975 I met the love of my life, Tamara Nikolayevna Kalashnikova.  We shared our first words in Highgate Cemetery, which by tradition was the first port of call for the groups arriving from Russia.  We were married in Moscow in 1978 at the Palace of Weddings No 1 and we celebrated our 40th. anniversary in 2018.

Throughout my medical studies and subsequent career, I have always retained my interest in languages and literature.  I am an avid reader of fiction, particularly of French, Japanese and Russian authors.  For me, life is not enough to perfect an understanding of the entire human condition and literature fills the gap.

By the age of twenty-four, no doubt medically qualified, but still somewhat socially immature, I began work as a doctor, nonetheless conscious that no ordinary clinical career would satisfy my enquiring mind.  Having already tasted the thrill of research, I embarked on a doctorate at London University and in 1984 received my PhD with a thesis in cardiac physiology.  Further academic research at the National Heart Hospital in London brought me into contact with the pharmaceutical industry.  Concerned by the poor economic state of the United Kingdom and now the proud, but still impoverished father of our remarkable son, Antony, I accepted a position in clinical research with Bristol-Myers in Brussels, Belgium.  Languages have frequently played a key role in my life and career and fluency in French was instrumental in attaining this work in Brussels.  The company offered a continuous flow of opportunities, taking me to Japan, where I learnt the language, then back to Western Europe and then, partly on account of my knowledge of Russian to Eastern Europe where Bristol-Myers Squibb had resolved to expand business and research. In 1998 I was appointed Vice-President of Intercontinental R&D.  I believe I flourished in the corporate world, combining my passion for research with a certain degree of business acumen.  Nonetheless, in keeping with the well-recognized characteristics of Caledonian antisyzygy, ethical issues were never far from my mind, and in 2002 I saw an opportunity to bring my varied past experiences to bear on the HIV epidemic in Africa.  Our son had already enrolled at Boston University and I convinced the company to transfer me to the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation as medical director of the charity’s $100 million program, entitled Secure the Future, providing grants for medical research and community projects, aimed at addressing the catastrophic situation created by HIV in southern Africa.  The program eventually played a major role in expanding access to antiretroviral therapy in Africa, which has been key to the current success in mitigating the disease.
My experience with Secure the Future in Africa had a transformative effect on my worldview, opening perspectives on global health and the challenges faced by the developing world.  In 2007 I retired from Bristol-Myers Squibb and began work with Baylor College of Medicine’s Paediatric AIDS Initiative, which has pioneered care and treatment for children infected and affected by HIV in Africa and Romania.  Based in Romania, but traveling widely through southern, west and east Africa, my objectives were to hone my expertise in global health research and monitoring and evaluation.  After retiring for a second time, I have continued ever since to provide assistance to both the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation and Baylor College of Medicine’s Paediatric AIDS Initiative.

Throughout these may years, I have been accompanied and sustained by my wonderful wife Tamara, while always providing support for our son, Antony, of whom we are immensely proud.  He has obtained a PhD in molecular biology and now lives with his equally brilliant wife, Kirby, in New Jersey.

In 2012, my wife and I decided to return to Scotland after 31 years abroad and we settled in the country’s largest city, Glasgow.  You may ask why we did not choose Edinburgh.  I guess my penchant for reinventing myself demanded another new perspective.  The energy of the Glasgow was infectious.  We began to learn Scottish Country Dancing and immersed ourselves in the city’s dynamic cultural revival.  I took up study of Scottish Gaelic and ice skating, which had been a passion in my youth.  That said, through frequent visits to my mother in Edinburgh, we were reintroduced to the capital and its modernized embodiment of the Scottish Enlightenment.  Extensive reading about the enlightenment and my acquaintance with Antonio Ca’ Zorzi resulted in the creation of the Blue Lion Guide to the Edinburgh Enlightenment.  Please read and listen, while walking in the Old and New Towns of this unique city.