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.
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,