Madlyn K. Abramson, 84, a philanthropist who with her husband, Leonard, created a groundbreaking cancer center in Philadelphia and gave generously in the areas of education, quality of life for seniors, and pediatric health, died Wednesday, April 15.
Mrs. Abramson, of Jupiter, Fla., died of complications from a stroke at her other home, in Blue Bell, the family said.
A cancer survivor, Mrs. Abramson felt compassion for other patients and was committed to research that would ease the psychological and physiological suffering caused by cancer.
In 1997, she and her husband made a $100 million gift to establish the Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute in West Philadelphia. Its aim was to integrate cancer research, education, and patient care in a single site at the University of Pennsylvania.
“All philanthropic projects were a joint thing they’d done together,” said daughter Nancy Wolfson. “Part of their vision was to give back to health care. It was a true love story.”
At the time, it was one of the largest gifts to a university, said Penn president Amy Gutmann and board of trustees chairman David L. Cohen.
“Madlyn’s bold vision and philanthropic spirit touched the lives of countless individuals by transforming how Penn conducts cancer research and provides care to those affected by this devastating disease,” the two said in a statement.
In 2002, the institute was renamed the Abramson Cancer Center of the University of Pennsylvania in the couple’s honor. Today it is called Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center.
They went on to create the Abramson Family Professorship in Sarcoma Care Excellence at the center, as well as the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Professorship in Clinical Oncology.
Born in Philadelphia, Mrs. Abramson graduated from Philadelphia High School for Girls and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education from Penn. She taught in the Upper Darby School District and was a reading specialist in the Philadelphia School District before joining the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit, which was then in West Norriton and now is in Norristown.
She married Leonard Abramson in August 1957. He became the CEO of US Healthcare.
Teaching, said her daughter, was “a career that she enjoyed when she was young.” Later, her passions shifted to philanthropy and nurturing her family.
But she didn’t abandon education. She became a Penn trustee in 1997 and served on the board’s executive, external affairs, and student life committees. An overseer of Penn’s Graduate School of Education, she made a leadership pledge to provide scholarship support for master’s and doctoral program candidates.
In 2013, the Abramsons gave $10 million to Temple University’s dental school for the support of student scholarships. In return, the dental school was renamed after Mrs. Abramson’s father, Maurice H. Kornberg, a dentist and alumnus.
“Leonard knew my father well, and both loved and respected him,” Mrs. Abramson told the Jewish Exponent in 2013. “My husband intended this gift as a wonderful present to me to honor the memory of this very special man.”
The couple established the Madlyn and Leonard Abramson Center for Jewish Life, an assisted-living, skilled nursing, and gerontological research facility in Horsham. The first resident moved in in October 2001. The Abramson Hospice program to serve residents on the Horsham campus was added, then expanded to the community in 2008.
In addition, the two created the Pediatric Research Center of Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It opened in 1995, more than doubling the space available for scientific projects.
Earlier this year, the couple gave $1 million to support Abramson Cancer Center research related to COVID-19.
Mrs. Abramson was accessible and down to earth, her daughters said. “She answered her own phone. The philanthropy never changed who she was,” Wolfson said. “She always put other people before herself and was always trying to help them.”
In leisure time, she enjoyed reading and entertaining.
Besides her husband and daughter, she is survived by daughters Marcy Shoemaker and Judy Felgoise, and 10 grandchildren.