These are heady times for Cynthia Gruber, a Concord resident who has been a longtime supporter of Lahey Health. She and a filmmaker colleague, Richard Tilkin, produced a documentary about facing death called “Aside From That,” which just won its first award at an international film festival in Houston. The film can now be seen on Amazon.com.
The idea for their film arose a few years ago, when she was at a particularly difficult time in her life. Her mother was 98 and in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease. A close friend had just been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), another deadly progressive neurodegenerative disease.
“We wanted to take this journey to understand how people cope with mortality and bring the audience along with us, to make their own conclusions,” she said of her film. “In the end, it’s a personal journey.”
Having the knowledge to make one’s own decisions is also at the root of why Gruber devotes so much time and family philanthropy to Lahey Health. “People need knowledge about health issues and about the health care resources in their community, so they can make the best decisions possible,” she says.
Providing women with that knowledge is why she and several other women founded Lahey’s Women’s Leadership Council in 2004. The group’s lecture series and Ladies’ Night Out fundraisers are informative, fun and have raised more than $2 million for Lahey. Gruber, with her 25 years as a retail-marketing executive, and the other women in the group bring their professional expertise to running these programs, to support the hospitals where they get their care.
Gruber and her husband, Rubin, receive their medical care at Lahey, as did her late parents. In fact, her father and husband had the same cardiologist, Sidney Alexander, MD, Chairman Emeritus of Cardiovascular Medicine.
“Lahey is a very special hospital, located in our community,” Gruber explained. “It offers health care outside of Boston that is equal in its expertise and recognition in many different fields of medicine. You don’t have to go to Boston to find those doctors.”
She and her husband also felt so strongly about supporting the new emergency department that they made a generous gift for its large waiting room. “We believe there needed to be an ER that has the same state-of-the-art facilities as a Boston hospital,” she says. “We have the utmost trust in the leadership of Lahey and its fine and honorable physicians.”
In appreciation of the emergency department staff, the Grubers also established the Cynthia and Rubin Gruber Lecture in Emergency Medicine. At the inaugural talk in 2015, emergency staff from all Lahey Health locations came together to hear a speaker on the latest research about concussions.
Gruber’s belief in the importance of education also underlies her other nonprofit work. She was a member and chair of the board of the Wellness Community, which supports people with cancer and those who care for them, and a board member of the Walker School, which is for children with emotional disabilities. She is also one of 50 Boston-area women in the Hestia Fund, a giving circle of women who pool their funds to provide grants to inner city after-school programs.
It was at a Hestia Fund meeting, in fact, that the idea for the Women’s Leadership Council was born. She, Susan Priem and a couple of other Hestia members realized they were all patients at Lahey and came up with the WLC as a way to do something for the hospital. Priem was the first chair, followed by Guber for three years.
Gruber has recently been invited to join an elite national group of executive-level women from diverse sectors of health care, called Women of Impact. They met in August in Washington, D.C., to brainstorm how they may collectively contribute to realigning the health care system to better meet the needs of all Americans.
Health care is important to everyone, Gruber pointed out. “To have the best lives we can,” she said, “we need to be knowledgeable and aware of our choices.”