By Laurel Busby
Think Pink, an annual celebration focusing on the health care of women and their families, was the brainchild of Pacific Palisades realtor Fran Flanagan and the Irene Dunne Guild.
Guild members, who raise money and act as ambassadors for St. John’s Health Center, work hard each year to create this fun and inspiring health education event. Think Pink, which this year was held May 17 at the Upper Bel-Air Bay Club, always occurs around Mother’s Day, and the timing is not accidental.
“I wanted to celebrate and honor our mothers, because who teaches you to take care of yourself? Your mothers,” said Flanagan, who came up with the idea for Think Pink when she was Guild president in 2005. “It’s a day of learning about what we need to know to take care of ourselves, our husbands, our sisters, our mothers—all of that stuff we do all the time. It’s giving us the tools to do that.”
This year’s event, which also commemorated the Irene Dunne Guild’s 30th anniversary, featured author and filmmaker Sharon Weil as the keynote luncheon speaker, who shared insights about the choices and challenges inherent in embracing life’s inevitable changes. Her books include “ChangeAbility” and Donny and “Ursula Save the World.”
The informative celebration, which was chaired by Sandy Line and Loraine Sinskey, also held a boutique and health-related breakout sections, including emergency room Dr. Victor Candioty providing advice on handling unexpected health events, dermatologist Dr. Ava Shamban discussing what skin indicates about our overall health, internist Dr. Ora K. Gordon exploring the mind-body connection, and nutritionist Leona West examining how food connects to health.
Over the years, Think Pink sessions have focused on a variety of topics, including “arthritis, diabetes, mental health, depression, anxiety, drug abuse, palliative care, end-of-life care and what dangers can lurk in your medical cabinet,” said Flanagan, who noted that sometimes the information has even been lifesaving for attendees. “There’s a lot of information out there, but there’s also a lot of incorrect information out there. This helps you sort through it.”
Health care was particularly important to Flanagan’s late mother, a registered nurse, who would have been 100 on May 14. “She was an advocate of health information, educating the client, explaining things,” Flanagan said. “She believed that knowledge is comfort. This is my way of saying, ‘I honor you, mom.’”
For the members of the Irene Dunne Guild, whose current president is Brenda McDonald, the event has been a special cause. Melinda Casey came on in subsequent years as the boutique chairman and the eventual event co-chair, while Palisadians Dolly Niemann, Susie deWeese, Patty Black (owner of Black Ink) and Debi Bishton have also worked hard to make it a success.
But it is only one part of the Guild’s health care mission. The 123 members, who range in age from their 20s to 80s, have provided millions of dollars in assistance to St. John’s Hospital over the years. A letter-writing campaign has raised more than $850,000, while the Caritas Gala, an annual black-tie dinner the Guild co-hosts, has raised more than $11 million through the decades.
Each year, the Guild, which has 51 Pali- sadians as members, typically provides more than $100,000 to St. John’s and has funded a natural birthing center, an ultra-sound machine, portable childbirth monitors, an OB/GYN table and a Fast Track system for the emergency room.
As well, the Guild has created numerous programs, including a hospital gift shop, a volunteer effort called Angels of the ER, a library of books, CDs and DVDs for patients and waiting loved ones, toys for children in the hospital, childbirth classes, lactation classes and a clothing closet to aid patients.
“If some particular doctor or program needs support, they often bring that to the Guild, and we decide whether we can help support them,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan, a Coldwell Banker realtor, became involved with the organization when her friend and colleague, Su-Z Schneider, invited her to join in 2003. Flanagan and her husband, Terry, had moved to the Palisades in 1970 and raised three children here, including Erin, 52, who works for the National Park Service, and two current Palisadians, Tolley, 51, a casting director, and Elizabeth, 44, a digital marketing executive.
The Irene Dunne Guild and its support of St. John’s always resonated with Flanagan. The Guild is named after the well-respected actress, who was one of the first members and also a longtime hospital philanthropist, but it was actually begun by Sister Marie Madeline, a nun who was an active advocate for St. John’s.
“She [Sister Marie] was the absolute backbone of that hospital,” Flanagan said. And the annual Think Pink event, which has grown from 50 attendees to 275 this year, has become the backbone and “the mother lode of the Irene Dunne Guild. It’s the way we put ourselves there.”
For more information, visit the Irene Dunne Guild website.