Madlyn Abramson

On April 15, Penn Medicine lost beloved friend, stalwart champion, and Emeritus Trustee Madlyn Abramson, ED’57, GED’60.

A cancer survivor herself, Madlyn Abramson and her husband, Leonard, are best known for their tireless support of the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) and Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute (AFCRI).

“It’s safe to say that Madlyn Abramson was the spark that ignited Penn Medicine’s groundbreaking ImmunoRevolution,” said Dean J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD. “With an historic gift to launch the AFCRI, she and her husband Leonard trans­formed the landscape of cancer research — and with the dedication of the ACC, brought to life a new vision of com­passionate cancer care.”

A Transformative Gift

In December of 1997, the Abramson Family Foundation made a transformative gift to the University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center, establishing the AFCRI. At the time, it was the largest-ever single contribution for research for a feder­ally designated comprehensive cancer center and the sec­ond-largest gift ever made to Penn.

The gift came with a visionary directive: Attract top scientists in this field, and free them up to do their research full-time. The Abramson family has donated over $150 million to Penn to further cancer research and compassionate care.

Longtime friend and former ACC Director John H. Glick, MD, reflects, “Madlyn wanted every patient facing cancer to be cared for throughout their journey, from diagnosis through survivorship—and beyond their immediate medical needs. Her generosity helped create a national model that includes support services like nutrition, support groups, social work, and others that remains strong today.”

This commitment to groundbreaking research yielded unprecedented impact: Among the recruits made possible by the Abramsons’ gift was Carl June, MD, the immuno­therapy pioneer responsible for the development of what became the first personalized cellular therapy for cancer.

Penn Medicine CEO Kevin Mahoney shared, “It was a special moment for me at our now-famous flash mob to stand alongside Madlyn and Leonard, celebrating Dr. Carl June and his team’s accomplishments — all of which started with a radical idea and a passionate philanthropist like Madlyn to back it. I’m going to miss her.”

“The reputation we enjoy today as one of the nation’s pre­eminent cancer centers has been built on the strong founda­tion that Madlyn laid,” said Robert Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, director of the ACC. “The exciting progress we’ve made in pursuit of curing cancer unites us every day to do more for our patients and across the world, and we have Madlyn, to­gether with her husband Leonard, to thank for the vision that set us on this path.” 

“A True Force of Nature”

Always leading the way in support of patients, Madlyn and Leonard were the first to step up at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing $1 million in support of COVID-19-related research. It was one final example of her tireless dedication to the betterment of public health.

“Madlyn Abramson was a true force of nature, and her loss is deeply felt throughout our community,” said University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann, PhD. “Madlyn stands out among our most influential philanthropic part­ners for her vision in inspiring change, and her dedication to ensuring that change took place. Together, she and her husband Leonard made a tremendous impact on Penn, Philadelphia, and the world. They inspired their daughters to carry on the torch, and we send our heartfelt sympathies to the entire Abramson family.”

In addition to Leonard, Madlyn is survived by her three daughters—Marcy Abramson Shoemaker, Nancy Abramson Wolfson, and Judith Abramson Felgoise — and her many grandchildren, two of whom followed in her Penn footsteps: Samantha Felgoise, C’20, and David Wolfson, L’20, WG’20.

The family has requested that contributions in Madlyn’s memory may be made to the Abramson Cancer Center. 

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