Distraction contributor Michael Valentino tells the story of his mentor and friend Gail Perlman and her influence on his decision to attend the University of Miami:
It is a brisk spring morning in late April in New York City’s Times Square. Gail Beth Perlman patiently waits outside of The Actors Fund’s headquarters at 729 Seventh Ave. between 48th and 49th streets- the meeting place for the anticipated arrival of 100 supporters of The Fund’s Phyllis Newman Women’s Health Initiative (PNWHI). Joining the efforts amongst a sea of more than 40,000 other walkers, The Fund is expected to raise about $10 thousand for the 14th annual 2011 EIF Revlon Run/Walk for Women.
Perlman is contently seated in her wheelchair, dressed in a cozy blue jean jacket with matching jean pants. Holding her fragile hands together on her lap, fingers lightly intertwined, the aroma of the flowers from the nearby park engulfs her. The fumes of coffee billowing from the supporters’ warm cups slightly mask the scent of the flowers. The city air is familiar to Perlman, who reminisces of previous Revlon Walks.
The walk this year is different, Perlamn assumes. It is the first without Lynn Redgrave, The Actors Fund’s long-time team captain for the Revlon Walk. The Fund dedicated the walk to the memory of the enthusiastic British actress, who passed away from to breast cancer on May 2, 2010. Fighting to compete with the roar of 40,000 voices echoing powerfully throughout Midtown, Perlman remarks about how special it is to be in the company of Redgrave’s daughter.
It is now 9:15 a.m., and a storm of confetti showers the crowd, marking the commencement of the walk. Wheeling past the familiar Times Square skyscrapers and green street signs, the native New Yorker’s face beams with pride. The journey to Central Park ends and the blissful Actors Fund supporters pose for a photograph, each sporting a medallion that hangs from a red lanyard. Perlman is positioned in front of the group and smiles brightly for the photograph. Her perfectly straightened red hair gleams in the spring sun.
Without a doubt, Perlman’s most defining features were her hair and unique Long Island accent. Born at Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan to a Jewish family, her accent was a direct reflection of her upbringing.
“Gail, use the word ‘law’ in a sentence,” says Joe Moretti, The Actors Fund’s Raisers Edge database and membership associate.
“Joe, awer you making fun of my accent?” Gail teasingly replies. She smiles widely and flushes a faint shade of red.
“Do it, I want to hear it again,” I would provoke. I was a 16 year old special events intern at the time.
“Alright fine, I’ll do it,” she says. Gail places her hand firmly on her chest, raises her chin up high and exclaims, “It’s the lawr!” followed by a hearty chuckle. She turns back to continue typing on her computer. Her shoulders continue to bounce as she laughs.
The lighthearted University of Miami graduate returned home to New York after graduating in the late 1970s. In the ‘80s, Gail became a successful entrepreneur, owning and operating two Connecticut-based boutiques named “Gailbeths.” She then became a buyer for Bergdorf Goodman and the co-manager of Landau jewelers located within Trump Tower.
However, after an extensive background in sales, Gail sought change in her career path. She yearned to combine her two passions in life: theatre and charity. In 2007, her dream came true after working as a volunteer for Broadway Cares/Equity Fights Aids foundation. Perlman’s good friend, Suzanne Tobak, urged the motivated entrepreneur to volunteer her time with The Actors Fund, a strong affiliate with Broadway Cares. Tobak was senior director of advancement for The Fund at the time.
Perlman considered her friend’s advice and began to volunteer her time to the non-profit in 2007. By 2010, the charming and experienced worker became the manager of special events. Perlman left The Actors Fund shortly thereafter to work with Tobak at Serino Coyne Inc., a Theatrical Advertising Agency.
On Dec. 26, 2010, Perlman was diagnosed with acute leukemia, a cancer quite rare in adults. After months of continued treatment by her caregiver and friend, Jeremy Heinerich Perlman passed away in May 2011.
That very year, I enrolled at the University of Miami as a sophomore transfer student, following in the footsteps of my friend and mentor Perlman. After a couple weeks of going to school here, I randomly noticed the words ‘Gail, ’78, written in the concrete where the sidewalk met the pavement. For two years, I wondered if it could in fact have been the Gail I knew, but I always passed it up as a coincidence. Whenever I pass by the sidewalk to this day, it is hard to explain, but I can just feel her presence.
I am a college senior and I work part-time as an event supervisor for the Newman Alumni Center. I took advantage of the alumni databases to prove whether or not it was Gail’s writing. I discovered that Gail attended the university within two years of the time the concrete inscription was dated. As listed in the database, Perlman graduated from the university in December 1976 with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.
Shortly after this discovery, I curiously e-mailed a picture of the writing to Louie Anchondo, the director of special events for The Actors Fund. Anchondo quickly verified the authenticity of the writing.
“That is her writing for sure! She is looking out for you kiddo… for all of us actually,” Anchondo expressed to me via e-mail. The significance of this is outstanding for me as I am expected to graduate from the university this May.
It is one of the few moments in my life that I feel that there is a reason for my being where I am. Gail not only left her permanent mark on the grounds of the University, she left a mark upon everyone who knew her.
Amy Picar, The Fund’s current manager of special events recalls, “I miss that Gail. In fact, I wear her watch she gave me all the time.”
The Actors Fund dedicated the 15th Annual 2012 EIF Revlon Run/Walk for Women to Perlman, as commemoration of her inspirational life.
Gail’s family suggested the best way to remember Gail would be a donation in her name to The Actors Fund or Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS, two organizations dearest to her, explained Joe Benincasa, president and CEO of The Actors Fund on the company’s Facebook page.
Before her passing, Gail requested to have her ashes scattered in every Broadway theater. To fulfill her wishes, Gail’s ashes were divided into small vials and distributed to Actors Fund employees who were closest with her.
Associate of The Actors Fund Stephen Joseph recalls, “My assignment was ‘Wicked’, so at our special performance, I sat myself in her favorite seat, row G on the aisle, and scattered her ashes while they were singing her favorite song, ‘For Good.’” Current employees of the non profit remember Gail with the upmost love and respect; forever to appreciate the tremendous impact she had on “The Acktuh’s Fund,” and to those who knew her.
words and photo_michael valentino