The Woman Who Created the first swcrf benefit


Sidney and Mary Kantor circa 1995

Philanthropist Mary Kantor was instrumental to building fundraising for the SWCRF in its early years and holds the distinction of producing its first gala benefit in 1978. She also played a pivotal role in establishing the SWCRF’s longtime collaboration with the Shanghai Institute of Hematology in 1982, a relationship that produced the breakthrough cure for acute promyelocytic leukemia. Here, Mrs. Kantor reflects on creating the first SWCRF benefit and advocates for supporting cancer research.


How did you meet the SWCRF’s founder Dr. Waxman?

My late husband Sidney was introduced to Dr. Waxman by Irving Alpert, a friend of his from the import/export business in New York City’s garment center. Irving was meeting Sam for a drink after work and asked if Sid was available to meet the brilliant cancer specialist. Sid had just that year lost his business partner, Erwin Winston, to a rare form of cancer of the neck. The meeting was an eye opener for Sid, who was questioning why no research existed at the time for the cancer from which his partner had died.  Sid learned that Sam needed funding to continue his research, to start research on a differentiation cure for cancer, and for a larger laboratory with more scientists.

What inspired you to create the first gala benefit to support the SWCRF?


Erwin Winston memorial journal page

Sid briefed me on his meeting with Sam and Irving and told me that he wanted to get involved but didn’t know how he could help raise funds for Sam’s laboratory.  I suggested having some sort of get together, a dinner or a dance. I had some experience with galas, mostly as an attendee of fashion shows and other events. I thought we could hold a gala to honor someone of renown with connections. Our first honoree was Sidney’s late business partner, Erwin Winston, a cancer casualty missed by many in the business community.

What is your most vivid memory about that first gala?


I had no experience, really, aside from attending so many social functions that in one year I was featured in The New York Times’ social pages three times.  My dearest friends became my volunteer committee. Sid suggested we have a journal. I negotiated with the large hotels that had ballrooms and selected The Plaza, anticipating 300 attendees. With Sid’s permission, I, along with my friend who was a graphic designer, rallied the staffs at our Sheridan Creations offices in New York, Hong Kong and Taiwan to help solicit funding in the U.S. and internationally. Susan Rose, who joined the SWCRF Board of Directors, came on board to help negotiate with the hotel’s catering department and other services since our committee was unknown at that point. The journal was a huge success and the fundraiser, a dinner dance, sold out. Our first event raised $100,000 and everyone who helped worked gratis. Needless to say, our staff came through. To this day I cannot believe we were able to raise $100,000 our first time out.

I continued to organize the event for five years. It was hard work but very gratifying to enable Sam to realize his dream lab and to expand his research and save lives around the world. 

Mary Kantor (second from left) with granddaughter Mary, daughter-in-law Adrienne and son Robert at the 2012 Waxman Gala


What is your impression of how the Waxman Foundation has evolved over the years?


The Waxman Foundation is going into its fortieth year and it’s really come a long way. I’m proud of what it’s accomplished but I think we can collaborate even more with our lab in Shanghai. Chinese graduate students are hardworking and with more scientific cooperation we could achieve our goals sooner.

What are your thoughts about the value of donor support for cancer research?


Donor support is always of utmost importance. Endowment is also vital. More foundations are targeting their dollars to medical and scientific research. We should be more aggressive in our fundraising and not depend so much on our major events. Trustees, both past and present, should be called upon to participate with ideas, sharing their experience as well as their business and social connections.

Donors should be well informed of our endeavors and be able to be our unsolicited spokespeople about the ongoing research and accomplishments. Small gatherings would be most useful to hatch ideas. Donors or trustees could underwrite these events.


Do learn more about the many ways you can support research for a cure, click here.