Although Shirley Howard passed away on Aug. 14, she will not soon be forgotten.
The Baltimore native and longtime Pikesville resident is credited with helping children’s cancer treatment make major strides forward in her lifetime. Howard, who was at 88 at the time of her death, almost singlehandedly raised more than $30 million for treatment and research as the executive director of The Children’s Cancer Foundation for 30 years.
“It wasn’t a job, this was her passion and her calling,” said Diane Perry, one of Howard’s three children and the foundation’s new executive director.
Howard was a regular on the Baltimore television and fashion scenes early in her career, opening the Patricia Stevens Institute of Fashion with her husband Bill and appearing on TV programs “The Moses Kann Hour,” “Quiz Club” and “The One O’Clock Show.” The Howards became active the Baltimore chapter of the international show businesses charity Variety Club, and Howard became the first woman to serve as a first vice president.
The Children’s Cancer Foundation, based in Owings Mills, came about in 1983 when Howard found out that Johns Hopkins was short on funding to keep its children’s cancer unit open. She, Bill and other parents got together to form the foundation, and it became Howard’s focus.
Under Howard’s leadership for the past 30 years, the foundation awarded funding to a variety of facilities throughout Maryland and Washington, D.C., including Johns Hopkins Hospital, the University of Maryland Medical Center, Sinai Hospital, the Children’s National Medical Center and the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center. A number of doctors, including renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Ben Carson, began their careers with grants from the foundation.
Jeffrey Toretsky, a professor in oncology and pediatrics at Georgetown University’s Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, received a grant from the foundation that allowed him two additional years of laboratory training as a pediatric oncology fellow at the National Cancer Institute when funding was tight.
“That extra training was really enough to allow me … to have enough expertise that I could legitimately apply for jobs in pediatric oncology where I could set up my own laboratory,” he said. “That was critical to my becoming an independent scientist.”
Toretsky said Howard wished for a day when no child would have to undergo painful cancer treatments.
“When Shirley began her charitable work, the diagnosis of cancer was a death sentence for children,” an obituary provided by Perry said. “Then, only one in 10 survived the dreaded disease. Now, more than eight in 10 children are surviving.”
A state-of-the-art facility named after Howard opened in March 2012. The Shirley Howard Pediatric Oncology Inpatient Unit at Sinai Hospital’s Herman & Walter Samuelson Children’s Hospital, a nine-bed facility, was donated in Howard’s honor by the foundation.
“My son said, ‘Mom, you did it. I’ve never heard grandma speechless,’” Perry said.
Joseph Wiley, chief of pediatric hematology and oncology and chairman of the pediatrics department at the children’s hospital, said Howard poured her heart and soul into the foundation and was always willing to help others over her own interests. His first research grant came from the foundation.
“Shirley demonstrated for me just how much one person with enough desire and commitment can make a difference,” he said.
Wiley was involved in the foundation for many years, visited Howard in the hospital and hospice and spoke at her funeral.
“With no personal medical training or specialized oncology knowledge, Shirley has done more to further the cause for scientific discovery, develop clinical-care paradigms and fund capital infrastructure in our great institutions to fight childhood cancer than anyone else in our lifetime,” Wiley said in his eulogy.
So who is going to fill these big shoes? Perry, Howard’s daughter, who came on board at the foundation about five years, having already been a member of the board.
“She’s worked so hard on this. I certainly want that to continue,” Perry said.
And Wiley thinks she has what it takes.
“I think she will mostly likely distinguish herself in a way that her mother would be proud of. In fact, she already has,” he said.
Marc Shapiro is a JT staff reporter