Cover Story » Vol. 1

Meet Mary DeFe­­udis

The New Face of Local Philanthropy
By Mike Monopoli

Volume 1 - Cover

Volume 1 - Cover - Mary DeFe­­udis at the Hanover Theatre

It was a thrill to meet with Mary DeFeudis at her elegant house in Northborough. Although it is a sprawling 11,000 square feet, it is welcoming and homey. We sat in her lovely breakfast nook, its large windows overlooking manicured grounds. Down-to-earth, kindhearted and full of enthusiasm, Mary is an inspiration to people of any age. Artistic by nature, Mary loves to paint and to write in her journal. Several of her oil paintings are on display in her comfortable, tastefully decorated home. “I like to write poetry, I like to draw. It’s very relaxing to me,” says Mary. The oldest of nine children, she comes from a blue collar background; her late father was a steamfitter and welder, her mother a homemaker. Mary was born in Worcester and raised in Sterling, but her family ties and her philanthropic endeavors aren’t the only things that keep her here in Worcester County. She is a firm believer that Worcester is a great city, and has the potential to be even greater. After granting the downtown theater restoration project $500,000 it’s evident that she’s willing to invest in that potential. “Philanthropy is something that is important for our children and future generations to follow. The Baby Boomers, who have been influential all along, have another chance to make an impact. Their children are raised, they’re retiring from careers and they can make a huge difference in the world,” says DeFeudis.

Mary, who is on the Board of Trustees of Nichols College and the Board of Directors of the Worcester Chapter of the American Red Cross, and is a member of the Alexis de Tocqueville Society of the United Way, spends much of her time promoting charities, with an emphasis on medical research hoping to cure cancer. “I’ve always helped St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. Even when I had little money, I would send them what I could. I think that children being ill is so sad, it’s awful when you see a child suffering.” I could see the passion in Mary’s eyes as she tells the story of a young boy in need of expensive medical care. Because his condition was likely terminal, his insurance refused to pay for an additional procedure which may have offered a possibility for treatment. “While wintering in Florida, I happened to see this little boy and his parents on TV, they had sold everything in order to pay for his medical care, and were now trying to raise money selling bumper stickers. He needed a brain biopsy, the doctors had given up on him and told his parents he wouldn’t make it to his tenth birthday, just a couple months away. Because of his prognosis, his insurance company would not pay for the procedure, which would cost them $20,000. On the spur of the moment I picked up the phone and called the Today Show and told them I wanted to pay the $20,000. At the same time a doctor was watching the show in California and when he heard I gave the money for the biopsy, he offered to do the surgery for nothing. After a whole series of events leading to the boy’s recovery, I was able to have dinner with him recently. He’s doing great, he’s twelve years old now, he had just been for a checkup and there’s no sign of any cancer. We had always kept in touch by email, but it was great to finally meet him in person. It was fabulous to see him, it was such an emotional event. From the start I felt that helping this boy was something that was meant to be. It was kind of a catalyst that got me thinking more about doing things that can make an impact, so I started by making a commitment for a large sum for cancer research at UMass and became very well acquainted with Dr. Dario Altieri, who is head of research there. I said to him, between you and me, let’s try to cure cancer in our lifetime.”

Hanover Theatre restoration

Hanover Theatre restoration

Mary became involved with the UMass Memorial Foundation, and was recently elected Chairman of the Board. “It’s very exciting, the hospital and the university are wonderful. I’m so proud that we have them here in Worcester. We have Nobel Prize winner Craig Mello, whose discoveries are sure to have an affect on cancer, Alzheimer’s and many other diseases.” Mary works with the hospital, the school and the other members on the board to raise money for research. She reminds us that, “People don’t realize that without philanthropy, the research that won that Nobel prize may never have happened. To be innovative, to think outside the box, they really need that research money.”

In addition to her charity work in medicine, Mary also is involved in many other things that bring joy to the residents of Worcester County, and she prides herself on helping to bring wholesome entertainment to children and families, including the Worcester Tornadoes baseball team, of which she is part owner, and the Worcester Sharks hockey team. A product of loving parents who instilled their children with a sense of compassion and respect, Mary stresses the importance of education, culture and medical research and its significance on our future. “My mother and father have been a great source of strength in my life, they set a great example. As a blue collar family, we didn’t always have every trinket that came along, but we always had a feeling of security. They were always going to be there for each other and for us kids.” The proud mother of two and grandmother of seven ~the eighth on her way any day now~ Mary loves baking and decorating cakes for her family’s birthdays and as the oldest child, always has Christmas Day at her house. “The (grand)kids absolutely love coming here.” It’s no wonder, either, that her family loves coming to Mary’s home. Blending old world charm with modern technology, the interior features gorgeous woodwork and custom cabinetry. The kitchen and dining room were designed to accommodate her large family parties. Her home also features a gym with memorabilia on the walls indicating that she is a fan of the Red Sox, Patriots and singer Elton John. “I work out, I have for years. Both here and at the gym. I think it’s important for all of us Baby Boomers, for people over 50.” A golfer for many years, it is obvious that health and fitness are an important part of Mary’s life. She refers to the sport as “…a frustrating game that I love. I took it up when my kids were grown and I’ve been playing ever since. I’ve been going every Saturday morning for a month or so for lessons. I wish there were more days in the week, because I’d play more if I could!” Her home also has a golf room, where a computer monitoring program records the ball’s speed and direction as it collides with a padded wall screen depicting a driving range, only to have the ball continue past the wall in virtual reality. “It’s a room, where you can actually hit balls in the house. You can play on different courses, like Pebble Beach or just a driving range. The computer program provides details on your swing, ball speed and distance. It’s a lot of fun.” Her theater room includes a pool table and a large screen TV that lowers from the ceiling.

Mary DeFe­­udis at the Hanover Theatre

Mary’s appreciation of the arts and architecture dates back to her teenage years working in downtown Worcester, when she remembers Main Street bustling with thriving businesses and culture. When she became aware of the intended restoration of the former Showcase Cinemas on Main Street (the building is now the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts), she felt strongly that revitalizing the venue would be a crucial part of the city’s revitalization. “A friend of mine, Paul Cantiani, told me about the plans for the new theater, what they were doing and who was involved and invited me to sit down and hear what was going on. I met with others who were already committed to the project. The enthusiasm in the room was great. I was inspired to help when I realized that Worcester is the only one of this country’s top 100 cities without a theatre for the performing arts. Now we have this beautiful place that’s going to rival the Boston Opera House. We’ll have Broadway right here in Worcester, we won’t have to go to Boston or Providence anymore,” says Mary. “People will go to the theater, and out to dinner and be home in just a few minutes. They will also patronize the restaurants, hotels and other businesses downtown.” Many others share Mary’s excitement in this venture, which is getting its support from local businesses as well as individuals. “I’m planning an event at the International Country Club in Bolton to bring people in and explain to them and show them how it was and how it’s going to be, virtual reality video of what it’s going to look like inside when it’s done” she tells us.

While many of us remember the downtown building as Showcase Cinema, past generations remember it as the Lowe’s Poli Palace Theatre well before it was converted for the movie business. The theatre will be restored rather than remodeled, returning it to its original grandeur. One major difference, however, is the expansion of the stage to accommodate Broadway productions. This required the purchase of additional land behind the building. Mary explains, “We wanted to be able to have a 40 foot stage. We thought, if we’re going through all this trouble, why not make it something that is unique and that can bring Broadway to Worcester.” The marble floors, ornate moldings, murals, columns and expansive ceilings with massive chandeliers will once again be exposed, creating a ‘wow’ factor for patrons who will flock downtown to take in a play, music concert, or comedy act. “It’s fabulous, I think it’s great that so many people had a hand in it.” Mary feels compelled to encourage the citizens of Worcester to support all the great things that are happening here, and feels that the new theater will have an enormous spin-off effect for downtown. No longer will the population of Worcester County be forced to seek this level of entertainment elsewhere. It will draw patrons to our restaurants, museums and other attractions in addition to creating jobs and revenue for our city. The city manager’s office estimates that the 2,300 seat theatre could have an economic benefit of $40 million annually. “This theater is a key piece in the revitalization of Worcester’s downtown,” reiterates Mary.

Divorced for some time after being married for many years, Mary confides that she’s now seeing someone. “I’ve been dating someone for about a year. He’s a great golfer, and a nice man and he likes my children and grandchildren.” Mary’s youthful enthusiasm and zest for life are contagious, and it’s clear that she plans on being a vital woman for many years to come. “I like to feel strong, I want to feel like I can do whatever I want to do. I have tons of energy. I like being able to get out there and help people and make a difference in the world.”

www.TheHanoverTheatre.org

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