Mary Strauss is a St. Louis philanthropist best known for saving the historic St. Louis Fox Theater. In the 1980s, she helped return the 4,500-seat “movie palace” to its original 1929 glamour, and today the theater hosts the biggest names in live entertainment and Broadway plays. Mary is also an award-winning producer whose play “Fun Home” garnered the 2015 Tony Award for Best Musical.
But what many don’t know is that Mary is also making lives better for kidney disease patients through her philanthropic giving to The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital.
When her late husband, Leon, needed a kidney transplant, world-class physicians at Barnes-Jewish Hospital offered hope—and precious time&#*212;when the situation seemed most dire. Through her gifts to the Foundation, Mary offers a helping hand to other patients as they face a similar journey.
“I’m known as being a benefactor of the arts,” says Mary. “I can’t imagine life without the arts, and I especially like to support organizations that introduce young people to the joys of live performances. But I wanted to give back to help kidney disease patients because care at Barnes-Jewish Hospital can have such a positive impact on your life. Because of Leon’s kidney transplant, he was given extra years of life. That was so important to us.”
Barnes-Jewish Hospital Gives Extra Life
In 1993, Leon became one of the thousands of people across the country waiting for a kidney. He discovered that the road to a transplant is often filled with agonizing waits, frequent emergency room visits, and false alarms.
Mary recalls one such moment when the couple attended one of their favorite plays, “The Phantom of the Opera,” at the Fox.
During one of the play’s most dramatic moments, the “phantom” seeks revenge by crashing the opera house chandelier. Just as the chandelier began falling toward the audience, Leon’s pager started beeping, alerting the couple that a kidney was available for transplant.
“Leon turned to me and said, ‘What do I do? What do I do?’” Mary recalls with a laugh.
Unfortunately, it was a false alarm, but the moment underscores the nerve-racking wait patients must endure before a transplant.
In the end, one family’s tragedy became a lifesaving gift for Leon when a friend of his son’s passed away in a car accident, and his kidney was a perfect match for Leon.
The generosity of Leon’s kidney donor gave him extra years and improved his quality of life.
Giving Back to Doctors and Patients
What Mary remembers most from the couple’s frequent visits to Barnes-Jewish is the caring and compassion of the doctors and medical staff—particularly Marcos Rothstein, MD, Washington University nephrologist at Barnes-Jewish.
“Dr. Rothstein was so wonderful,” Mary says. “He’s part of our family now, really and truly.”
She and Leon both wanted to give back to Dr. Rothstein’s work to improve the lives of kidney disease patients and support future advances in the field.
They established the Leon and Mary Strauss Research Endowed Fund for Kidney Disease and the Mary and Leon Strauss Nocturnal Hemodialysis Fund. Mary has arranged to provide future support to the funds through a bequest in her will.
Mary’s funds help kidney transplant patients afford essential anti-rejection medications and equipment to ensure the best treatment outcomes. Mary also supports Dr. Rothstein’s research to develop improved therapies for patients with kidney disease.
Although Leon passed away in 1999, Mary is grateful for the precious additional time she had with him after the transplant.
“I want to leave a legacy to honor Leon,” Mary says. “Barnes-Jewish gave him extra life. I hope others who have been helped will do the same. It’s a living legacy.”
Leave a Living Legacy
Contact Joan Cheaney, CFRE at 314-286-0704 or PlannedGiving@BJC.org to learn how you can make a lasting difference for our patients through philanthropic giving.