Leading in Central MA: Activist/Philanthropist Mary DeFeudis
Monday, September 09, 2013
DeFeudis serves as the Chairman of the Board of Directors for the University of Massachusetts Memorial Foundation. She also serves on the Board of Directors of the American Red Cross of Central Massachusetts and the Board of Directors for Becker College. A Founding Member of the Hanover Theatre, she also serves on their Board of Directors. She was named the 2010 Isaiah Thomas Award recipient in recognition of the many and varied outstanding contributions she has made to the Central Massachusetts community.
I enjoyed a warm and wonderful conversation with Mary about her life, charitable work and living in the Worcester area.
A conversation with Mary DeFeudis
SW: It is hard to know where to start because you are so involved with the Central MA Community. What motivated you to take the path that you have by dedicating your life to community service?
I was married at an early age and spent most of my life as a married woman. With my children grown, I found myself struggling to make sense of my life after a divorce in 2005. I was watching the Today Show, while on a Florida vacation, when they talked to the family of a 9 year-old boy with a brain tumor. He required a $20,000 biopsy to see if he could have a special surgery that would save his life but insurance would not cover it. I was fortunate to be able to afford to help him. So I called the show and offered to pay his biopsy and ended up being on a segment…the pope was interviewed just before I was and then Michael Jackson followed! A surgeon who had pioneered a new method of surgery going through the nose rather than the skull offered to do it for free if the biopsy showed that it was possible. It was and this year, he graduated from high school. That was the turning point.
SW: You are also an investor in the community. What is your major investment?
Just after I returned to Worcester from my life changing experience, I heard about the refurbishing of the Hanover Theatre. I just love the building and the history. We saw photographs of when Sarah Bernhardt was there. I became part of a wonderful board that met a couple times a week. We twisted every arm that we came in contact with to get the funds to finish the project as we did some major renovations including bumping out the back so we could do Broadway productions. It was frustrating at first. The theater had been trashed during its time as a movie theater. As it moved forward, the progress was so rewarding and chaotic with tough deadlines. We were literally finishing the painting the day before Bernadette Peters stepped out on stage.
SW: Can you describe a typical day in the life of Mary DeFeudis?
I just don’t have a typical day. I try and do a few miles on my elliptical trainer every morning. I play golf when I can and I am involved in many different activities. My day is like Forrest Gump and his box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get!
SW: What new projects are you involved with?
I am just going on the Board of Directors for Becker College. Dr. Johnson, the new president, is absolutely fabulous. I was so impressed at this inauguration. His speech was so moving and so forward thinking. I had to stop and think about whether I could commit to another project but I welcome the opportunity to work with someone who is so dynamic and charismatic. I couldn’t resist the opportunity.
SW: What accomplishments are you the most proud of in other philanthropic areas?
MD: I funded the Mary C. DeFeudis Training Center for the Red Cross. It is located in Leominster. The Center offers training programs ranging from CPR and babysitting certifications to EKG, phlebotomy and nurse assistant training. I am thrilled to have the new facility in Leominster. I grew up in Sterling, so this is like my backyard. I am so proud that this will help those who are unemployed or underemployed really develop their skills and put them to use in the community.
SW: What about in business?
MD: I am very involved with UMass Medical Center. It is so wonderful to have a world-class medical center in Worcester. There is such forward thinking leadership at the medical school and hospital. We have been reaching out to the community to share the many wonderful doctors and researchers and all that is going on in the labs and with that incredible new facility.
SW: Who is your inspiration?
MD: My mother. She had an expression about enjoying each day you are in. I remember that and try to live up to her.
SW: What is the something that few people know about you?
MD: I have been keeping a diary on and off since January 2004.
SW: What is your advice for helping the city to reach its full potential?
MD: I think we are at a tipping point. We have a world-renowned hospital, a world-class art museum and Mechanics Hall. Hanover Theatre was just named 39th in the world. There are a lot of really good people who really care about the city. People need to get excited and support getting downtown redone and refurbished. I hope the City Square project will make a difference. Hanover Theatre can be an inspiration. If enough people put heart and soul into it, it can happen.
SW: Any special plans for your future?
MD: I have no special plans but I am open to whatever the future may bring. I am also excited to see where my wonderful grandchildren go in life. One of the great perks of being this age, is having the freedom to just see wait and see what develops.
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