‘Irene and Abe: An Unexpected Life’
Irene and Abe: An Unexpected Life By Irene Pollin (240 pp. $19.95)
With piercing honesty and fluidity of language, Irene Pollin, whose parents had a small business in St. Louis during the Depression, traces the trajectory of her “unexpected life” as the wife of gifted entrepreneur Abe Pollin. The Pollins’s vision and foresight transformed the landscape of American sports and provided the nation’s capital with two sports teams—the Washington Wizards of the National Basketball Association and the Washington Capitals of the National Hockey League—and entertainment venues. However, the story she tells moves beyond her prosperous and exciting marriage and focuses on her own achievements as a mental health professional, a philanthropist, a versatile hostess and a world traveler whose journeys have carried her to remote areas of Africa and Europe. A committed Zionist, Pollin, 92, has repeatedly visited Israel. She conversed easily with President Bill Clinton, and she and Abe enjoyed a close friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and his wife, Leah.
Yet amid the excitement of her privileged life, there were dark shadows. In 1952, Pollin’s infant son, Kenneth (Jay Jay), died of a congenital heart defect at 13 months old. Her daughter, Linda, was also born with a heart defect that claimed her life in 1963, when she was just 16. That same year, her beloved younger sister, Betty, was diagnosed with schizophrenia—and both of their parents died. But Pollin’s resilience and her determination to help other families deal with similar tragedies led to endowments that foster research in cardiovascular disease and lend extensive aid in support of mental health programs, all in addition to her own work as a psychotherapist specializing in grief counseling. She founded Sister to Sister in Washington, D.C., a program that offers women free cardiac screenings as well as counseling and education.
In 2012, Pollin broadened the mission of Sister to Sister when she gave Hadassah a $10-million gift to establish the Linda Joy Pollin Cardiovascular Wellness Institute at Hadassah Hospital in Ein Kerem. The mission is to increase awareness of cardiovascular disease as a significant cause of death and illness in women throughout Israel, with the goal of reaching both women and health care providers, particularly those in the Arab and haredi communities, where heart risk factors are higher.
In the aftermath of her husband’s death in 2009, Pollin writes, she acknowledged her loneliness. But with ad-mirable consistency, she resolved “to make the rest of my life as happy and fulfilling as it has been up to now.”
Gloria Goldreich’s most recent novel is The Bridal Chair. She is a regular contributor to Hadassah Magazine.