After a stint as an intelligence officer in the Air Force, Stanley learned marketing at Procter & Gamble. Stanley then branched out and co-founded the Danbury Mint in 1969 with another P&G employee to make collectibles; their first was a series of medals commemorating the Apollo 11 moon landing. The company was fabulously successful, making billions. But in 1988, Stanley was summoned to New York, where his son Jonathan was visiting — and had gone missing. Jonathan was finally found by police in a deli; in three days of delirium, he had lost everything, including his clothing. “My dad came to visit and got to see his beloved son in a straitjacket,” Jonathan said later. He had had a psychotic break, and his father was rich enough to get him whatever help that was needed. “After a couple of awful years for our son and for us, he went on to have a totally normal life in the almost 30 years since,” Ted Stanley said in 2014. “You’re talking to a guy who went from psychotic to normal with some pills,” Jonathan confirmed.
But what the Stanleys found was that there was little to explain what happened, and why: mental illness was poorly understood, and treatments limited. Ted Stanley set about changing that fact. “My son’s life was saved,” Stanley said. “I would like to purchase that happy ending for other people.” He did that by donating $650 million to the Broad Institute of MIT and Hartford, to study mental illness — the largest private donation ever given for psychiatric research. About $600 million more went to the Stanley Medical Research Institute, which is working to discover drugs to more successfully treat mental illness. “I’m just turning over almost all my money, now and through my will,” Stanley said. Jonathan didn’t mind his dad giving away his inheritance: “A good chunk of this huge amount of money that’s going to Broad would’ve ended up in my bank account,” Jonathan said. “All I can say is my family got it right.” In all, it’s estimated that Stanley donated $1.2 billion to research and treat mental illness. Ted Stanley died January 3. He was 84.