Tag Archives: Smilow Cancer Center

Remembering Joel Smilow

Longtime Westport resident Joel Smilow — known initially as CEO of Playtex, then for his generous philanthropic efforts on behalf of Yale University, cancer patients and other healthcare institutions — died last Sunday at Yale-New Haven Hospital. He was 88 years old.

He grew up in Washington, Virginia and Maryland. After graduating from Bethesda’s Woodrow Wilson High School, he became a proud and active member of Yale’s Class of 1954. For the rest of his life, he was an active participant in almost anything Yale. In 1993, Smilow was awarded the Yale Medal for outstanding service.

At graduation, he was commissioned as an ensign in the US Navy, and served on destroyers based in Norfolk. He held the rank of Lieutenant JG at the time of his discharge.

Smilow then attended Harvard Business School, and graduated as a Baker Scholar in 1958.

Joel Smilow

His business career started at Procter and Gamble as an assistant brand manager. In 1965 he moved to Glendinning Associates, a small marketing consulting company in Westport.

In 1970 he was recruited to become CEO of International Playtex. He successfully guided the company until retirement in 1995.

Smilow’s interest in philanthropy had already begun, but it soon became a major focus. He was involved with many diverse institutions. His generosity helped countless numbers of people, in large and small ways.

He was a member of the Blind Brook Club, Birchwood Country Club, and the Reserve and Eldorado Country Clubs in California. In his younger days, he enjoyed playing tennis and golf, and continued to enjoy poker and bridge. Above all he was a huge football fan (the Yale Bulldogs were his favorites).

He belonged to the Young President’s Organization and Chief Executives Organization, and enjoyed the many friendships former there. He was also a longtime friend and partner of Chef Daniel Boulud.

He is survived by Joan, his wife of 67 years; children Rick (Debi), Bill (Kathy) and Susan; grandchildren Charlotte, Anna, Griffin and Lexi, brother Michael, and many nieces and nephews.

A private service was held. Donations in his name can be made to
Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven Health, Joel E. Smilow Heart Institute at Bridgeport Hospital, Smilow Intensive Care Unit at Norwalk Hospital, or Smilow Heart Center at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California,

Unlikely Artists, Odd Space, Open Eyes

Today’s New Haven Register has a story on one of that city’s “best-kept secrets”: a 4th-floor corridor leading from the Smilow Cancer Hospital to a parking garage. It doubles as a “mini-art museum.”

The “06880” hook — beyond the hospital being named for a philanthropic local family — is that the current exhibit, “Abstract Notes,” was created in conjunction with the Westport Arts Center.

All the art — called “almost breathtaking for its simplicity and meaning” by the Register — was produced by people affected by cancer.

Nell Bernegger

Nell Bernegger

Nine patients and 1 family member worked with Westport teaching artist Nell Bernegger, a WAC member. In five 2-hour sessions, she helped them learn how to express their feelings through art.

WAC education manager Sarah Kelley notes that the patients did not “over-think” their work. It was “about living in the moment and letting go,” she says.

At tables with heavy watercolor paper, brushes, water, mixing trays and gouache, they heard Bernegger talk about her own painting process. They meditated, did a brief breathing session, and got to work.

At the end of each session, the budding artists talked with the group about what their art meant to them.

Curator Helen Klisser During — the WAC director of visual arts — chose 1 painting by each participant. She had them framed, and mounted on the walls.

"Vibrance" by Cheryl Thomas, on display at the Smilow Cancer Center. (Photo by Arnold Gold, courtesy of New Haven Register)

“Vibrance” by Cheryl Thomas, on display at the Smilow Cancer Center. (Photo by Arnold Gold, courtesy of New Haven Register)

Everyone walking to and from the parking garage enjoys them. And, the Register notes, they’ve opened some eyes.

“I see these patients every day,” a hospital staffer said. “But I had no idea they could do this.”

For During, “that’s just the point. When art comes from the heart, it doesn’t matter if you’re an artist or not. The work touches everyone.”

(To read the entire New Haven Register story, click here. This is part of a broader “WAC Gives Back” program, which brings healing arts experiences to local veterans, students at the Bridge Academy, seniors at Meadow Ridge, and children through “Special Arts.”)