Mary Werksman keeps on giving

In 2004, when Mary Werksman lost her husband, Harry, she didn’t know what to do with herself. Then, she started volunteering at Eisenhower Medical Center.

As longtime Eisenhower donors, Harry and Mary Werksman loved giving back to their community simply because they wanted to, never seeking recognition. But through volunteering her time, Mary found that Eisenhower was giving back to her in ways she didn’t expect.

In the beginning

The Werksmans had a whirlwind, storybook courtship. At first, fiercely independent Mary wanted nothing to do with any relationship, including one with Harry. In February 1963, Mary Anderson was the biggest fashion buyer in Europe. On a trip from Paris to the United States for New York Fashion Week, Mary was all business, but fate had other plans.

Two strangers on her flight insisted Mary, a former model, meet their friend Harry when she got to New York. She wanted none of it: “I’m single and like it that way, and I’ve got a fabulous job,” she told them.

Unbeknownst to her, handsome Harry Werksman was the most eligible bachelor on the East Coast. Harry persuaded Mary to meet him and offered to show her the garment district, but she had another idea. Harry, accustomed to ladies asking him to take them to the latest trendy restaurant or Broadway show, was intrigued by Mary’s request: “The first thing you want to do is go on a 10-cent boat ride to the Statue of Liberty?”

Their outing turned into dinner, but afterward, Mary was ready to part ways and continue her travels to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Mexico City, and Acapulco.

“You can’t walk out of my life like that,” Harry said.

“Oh yes I can,” Mary replied.

The next day he asked her to marry him.

“You must be plain daft,” Mary said. “You know nothing about me.” “I want to spend the rest of my life finding out,” he told her. When Harry died, the two had been married for more than 40 years.

Their life together

Harry Werksman made his mark in the trucking industry with Pittsburgh-based Helms Express, where he grew the business from 10 employees into a major interstate carrier. Early in his career, he established the first overnight truck freight service between Pittsburgh and New York. He also served as president of the Western Pennsylvania Motor Carriers Association and the Allegheny County Chapter of the Pennsylvania Motor Trucking Association.

The couple raised their three sons in Pittsburgh, and when Harry retired in 1972, the family moved to Palm Springs and built a house where Mary still lives. As their relationship grew, so did their desire to give back. The Werksmans shared their good fortune with charities in the desert that echoed their philanthropic passions: faith, education and health care.

They supported Eisenhower from its infancy and were asked by John Sinn — former Eisenhower Medical Center President and Chairman of the Board — to help raise money when the hospital first started.

Mary’s new role

When Harry died, Mary felt lost. “I cried for two solid years,” Mary says. “I didn’t want to live.” Still, Mary continued donating to Eisenhower. After all, her husband was a founding donor and she wanted to keep up the tradition.

“Finally, I realized that he was gone, but I was still living,” Mary says. She tried to fill her time cooking and baking bread with culinary skills she had learned at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She thought about getting a job, “but who would give a 72-year-old woman a job?”

Then it occurred to her: she could give her time and talents to the place where she and Harry had received so much outstanding primary, surgical and life-saving care over the years.

Mary decided to strengthen her connection to Eisenhower as a volunteer. She started out in the Emergency Department. Later when the Annenberg Pavilion was built, she added another day to her volunteer schedule to staff the information desk in the intensive care unit.

The hospital staff which had saved Mary’s life three years before helped bring her back from that dark period after losing Harry. “My colleagues are like a second family to me.”

Now Mary wants to continue the generosity that was such a constant in her life with Harry.

“I give because my husband and I were a team,” she says. “We gave, and I kept on, to help the community.” Eisenhower, Mary says, “is the best hospital in the valley and everybody knows it. It’s the most worthy local cause.”

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