What do legendary first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, opera star Jessye Norman and acting icon Meryl Streep have in common? All three remarkable women have been honored by the Women's Division of Albert Einstein College of Medicine at its Spirit of Achievement Luncheon—the division's annual fundraiser to benefit medical research at Einstein. The Spirit Luncheon turned 60 this year, and the Women's Division marked the milestone anniversary on May 13 at New York City's Plaza Hotel with a celebration worthy of a landmark event that has been consistently noted for its elegance and panache.
The list of Spirit honorees—a Who's Who of luminaries spanning six decades—gained four more distinguished names this year: Christine Baranski, acclaimed actor and star of the hit TV series "The Good Wife"; Alexandra Wilkis Wilson, co-founder of the popular online shopping destination Gilt; Julie Macklowe, founder of v'beauté, the upscale skin care line; and Dr. Judy Aschner, chair of pediatrics at Einstein and its University Hospital, Montefiore Medical Center, and an internationally recognized expert in pediatric medicine.
Proceeds from the luncheon benefited the Women's Division's current initiative to support research on, ovarian, lung, colon, prostate, cervical, uterine, pancreatic and breast cancers and leukemia by leading scientists at Einstein.
"This is a proud day for Einstein and the Women's Division," said division president Carol Roaman, who spearheaded the event along with luncheon co-chairs Andrea Stark, Jackie Harris Hochberg and Alison Brettschneider. "We're thrilled to celebrate the 60-year tradition initiated by a group of dynamic New York women who, back in the early 1950s, were passionately committed to realizing the dream of a very special medical school."
Several Spirit "alumni" representing the luncheon's previous honorees attended this year's festivities. Among them were Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes;best-selling novelist Barbara Taylor Bradford; journalist Judith Miller; former United States Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman; and Einstein faculty members Dr. Mark Einstein, an eminent researcher focused on uterine and other women's cancers, and Dr. Joseph Sparano, a leading breast cancer expert.
They mingled with the assembled Women's Division members and guests during a cocktail reception, which also featured models displaying fashions from Ms. Brettschneider's 25 Park boutique.
Following an introduction from Einstein's dean, Dr. Allen M. Spiegel, Dr. Aschner accepted the first Spirit award. She movingly described how her personal journey 27 years ago as the mother of a newborn with life-threatening health issues has informed her career as a pediatric researcher and clinician.
Next, Ms. Baranski, who was introduced by her friend Lynne Meadows, artistic director of the Manhattan Theatre Club, cited the support she received from healthcare professionals during the years she spent caring for family members affected by heart disease, cancer and diabetes. "I believe actors and celebrities get a disproportionate amount of attention in this culture," she said. "Men and women in the medical field to me are the most heroic and human of beings, the most deserving of celebrity. I am grateful to publicly thank them today and salute the work being done by the Women's Division of Einstein."
Ms. Wilkis Wilson, a Harvard graduate with an M.B.A from Harvard Business School, credited her grandmother, who died of breast cancer, with inspiring her to get an education.She acknowledged Einstein for its outstanding work in cancer research.
And, Ms. Macklowe spoke of a friend currently battling breast cancer, and thanked Einstein researchers for their dedicated efforts to find better treatments for the disease.
A program highlight featured the touching and inspirational video remembrance of the late Rita Rosen, a beloved past president of the Women's Division and the 2005 recipient of its Lizette M. Sarnoff Award for Volunteer Service. Family members and friends of Mrs. Rosen and her late husband Philip came from the New York area and beyond to join in honoring her. The video was created by a team that included Ms. Roaman, Women's Division director Janis Brooks, Einstein graphic arts director Peter Dama, and Rick LaRock, Mrs. Rosen's collaborator on the many films she produced over the years to promote Einstein and encourage others to become involved.
Since 1953, the Einstein Women's Division has raised millions of dollars to advance medical research and education programs at the College of Medicine. The Spirit of Achievement Luncheon, one of the first events of its kind, recognizes the accomplishments of exceptional individuals in the arts and sciences, politics, philanthropy and other fields.
The awards have recognized the achievements of cultural trailblazers in numerous fields, such as anthropologist Margaret Mead, choreographer Agnes de Mille and women's activist Gloria Steinem. And they have honored leading ladies in politics, theater and sport, among them Governor Ann Richards, Lena Horne and Billie Jean King—as well as scores of other extraordinary women. And the select group of male Spirit award recipients includes Sargent Shriver, founding director of the Peace Corps; veteran actor Eli Wallach; and fashion designer Naeem Khan.
In Spirit's early days, Bob Hope and Johnny Carson served as masters of ceremonies. More recently, Willie Geist, co-host of the Today show and of MSNBC's Morning Joe, contributed his time and talent in that role. And this year, Style expert Jill Martin, a contributor to NBC's Today show and a past Spirit honoree, debuted as emcee.
For additional information about Einstein's Women's Division or giving at Einstein, please visit www.einstein.yu.edu/donors.
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