Shirley B. Howard, a former local TV personality who with her late husband co-founded the Children's Cancer Foundation and proceeded to raise millions of dollars to help children suffering from cancer, died Wednesday of respiratory failure at her Pikesville home.
She was 88.
"Shirley was a unique individual, and her heart just bled for these kids, who called her 'Aunt Shirley,' and their families," said Dr. Benjamin Carson, a retired neurosurgeon who had been director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital. "She worked from morning to night raising funds, and it basically consumed her. It was her life."
In 1984, Mrs. Howard and her husband, William Howard, a veteran showman and businessman, founded the Children's Cancer Center in the basement of their Pikesville home.
They later added a secretary, and in 2009 Mrs. Howard moved the foundation to a small office and expanded the operation to include a salaried executive director and an administrative assistant.
Mr. Howard had been chief barker of the Maryland Chapter of Variety Clubs International, which raised millions of dollars to establish clinics and camps for handicapped children and to purchase buses for hospital transportation.
The couple worked 12 to 15 hours a day fundraising. Through their annual ball, an "anything-a-thon," and working with the food industry, they raised millions of dollars disbursed to such institutions as Johns Hopkins Hospital, the University of Maryland Medical Center, the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health, the Georgetown Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, the Uniformed Services University, Sinai Hospital and the Children's National Medical Center in Washington.
The couple also built the Children's Inn on the NIH campus for ill children and their families.
"We still do a variety of other fundraising efforts," said a daughter, Diane Perry of Pikesville, the organization's executive director. She said the foundation has collected and disbursed more than $33.6 million during the past 29 years.
"Over the past 30 years, Shirley Howard, through the Children's Cancer Foundation, has changed the face of childhood cancer," said Ms. Perry. "When she began fundraising, the diagnosis of cancer was a death sentence for children. Then only one in 10 survived the dreaded disease. Now over eight in 10 are surviving."
"She also helped launch the careers of many cancer researchers," said Dr. Carson. "Shirley was a tremendous example of what one individual can do when they have passion. The story is one that should interest anyone who sits around and says, 'What can I do?'"
He added: "Thousands of children's lives have been saved because of the research sponsored by her foundation. The amount of good that she did is impossible to estimate."
Last year, the nine-bed Shirley Howard Pediatric Oncology Inpatient Unit — donated in her honor by the Children's Cancer Foundation — opened at Sinai Hospital's Herman & Walter Samuelson Children's Hospital.
When the facility opened, Dr. Joseph Wiley, chief of the children's hospital at Sinai, said, "The Children's Cancer Foundation has been the most important charity for childhood cancer in our region."
Shirley Brager was born in Baltimore and raised on Loyola Southway in the Lower Park Heights neighborhood. She was a graduate of the old Robert E. Lee Junior High School (School 49) on Cathedral Street and was 16 when she graduated from Western High School in 1941.
After graduating from high school, she worked as a secretary for a Baltimore attorney. During the 1950s, Mrs. Howard was a fixture on such Baltimore TV programs as "The Moses Kahn Hour," with Royal Parker, and appeared with Brent Gunts on "Quiz Club." She co-hosted "The One O'Clock Show," also with Mr. Gunts, and later with Jay Grayson, Jim Lyons and Bob Jones on WBAL-TV.
In 1955, she married Mr. Howard, who had been a professional dancer during the 1930s with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra. In the early 1950s, he directed a Saturday morning show called the "Kiddie Club," where he was known as "Uncle Bill," from the stage of the Century Theatre. It later was aired over local TV.
In 1954, Mr. Howard became a vice president of Patricia Stevens International Inc., a modeling, fashion merchandising and self-improvement business at 319 N. Charles St., which he operated with his wife.
They later expanded the business to Lexington Street, Westview and Eastpoint malls. They closed the business in 1985 to focus completely on the work of their foundation.
Mr. Howard died in 1997.
In 2009, Mrs. Howard was presented the Impact One Award from the Maryland Chapter of the Association of Professional Fundraisers. She also received the Champion Pediatric Research Award, which was presented to her in a ceremony at the Rayburn Building on Capitol Hill.
She was honored as Maryland's Outstanding Older Worker by Experience Works in 2004, and was inducted into the Maryland Senior Hall of Fame last year.
In looking back over her life's work, Mrs. Howard often said, "We pray for the day when we will hear children and adults' laughter, and no longer have to hear their cries of pain."
Services were Friday at Sol Levinson & Bros.
In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Howard is survived by a son, Douglas Bragan of Chicago; another daughter, Linda Howard of Randallstown; two grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.