As the eternal flame flickered above the ark and afternoon sunlight filtered through brightly colored stained-glass windows, friends, family and colleagues of Marlene Greenebaum gathered in the sanctuary that bears her name at Temple Oheb Shalom to honor and mourn a woman they described as soft and sensitive, strong and courageous, who lived a life of purpose and leaves behind a lasting legacy of helping others.
Greenebaum died Dec. 23 after a recurrence of breast cancer that was diagnosed in 1990. Her husband was real estate developer and philanthropist Stewart Greenebaum, who died a year ago at this time. She recently celebrated her 80th birthday.
Oheb Shalom Rabbi Sarah R. Marion cited the Book of Proverbs.
“All of us who knew Marlene had the privilege of knowing a real eishet chayil, a true woman of valor,” Marion said. “In so many ways, this text from Proverbs is the script of her life: a mother of generations, a woman of valor. She is precious in the gifts that she has given to our family. Her children have found trust and truth in those gifts. … She is robed in strength and dignity and she smiles at the future. She opens her mouth in wisdom and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. We benefit and learn from her wisdom. May she always be remembered for the fruit of her labor and for her achievements.”
Oheb Rabbi Emeritus Donald R. Berlin, who was not only Greenebaum’s rabbi but a personal friend, said she was loved, admired and lived “an extraordinary life.”
“Quintessentially Jewish Baltimore,” Berlin said of Greenebaum’s accent and rooted family background. She attended Forest Park High School and Villa Julie College (now Stevenson University), followed by a long marriage, children, grandchildren and extensive travel to Antarctica, China, Egypt and Israel.
But, he said, “Baltimore was where she always returned. This was truly home.”
Berlin said Marlene and Stewart were “indelibly linked” and always there for one another.
As the co-founder of Greenebaum and Rose Associates and founder of Greenebaum Enterprises, Stewart was responsible for notable Maryland developments including Maple Lawn in Howard County and Shipley’s Choice in Anne Arundel.
As prolific philanthropists, the two founded several medical facilities, including the Marlene Greenebaum Multidisciplinary Breast Center at Hadassah University Medical Center in Jerusalem and the Children’s House at Johns Hopkins University.
In 1996, Marlene and Stewart donated $10 million to the University of Maryland Medical System and School of Medicine, the largest private contribution ever given to the school. The university renamed the cancer center the Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center.
“She wanted others to have hope for whatever struggles they encountered,” Berlin said. “Little did she realize that their cancer research would be applied to her own life and enable her to live many more years.”
Berlin remembered Marlene as elegant and warm with a “brilliant smile revealing her gentle nature, her strong demeanor.” She was “immaculate in her appearance,” as well as “fully aware of what was happening around her, up to date on what was taking place in the world at large and in the Jewish community,” holding strong views on many subjects and sensitive to the worth and dignity of others.
Marlene was deeply involved in organizations such as Oheb Shalom’s sisterhood, Hadassah, Covenant Guild and Miriam Lodge, Berlin said, bringing “warmth and love into a sometimes brutal and unfair world” and a “deep commitment to doing the right thing.”
Beyond her community work and philanthropy, Marlene enjoyed reading, solving puzzles, playing mahjong and video games, shopping and, especially, dining out with family and friends. And she was proud of completing studies at the Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning.
Michael Greenebaum remembered his mother and father as “quite a combination,” his father larger-than-life and his mother the “warmth of the light.”
“The legacy my mom leaves behind is truly unmeasurable,” Michael said. “She may have been a very quiet and private person, but she had amazing willpower and strength.”
“If there is one message my mom would want to leave you all with it is, the purpose of life is to live with purpose,” he said. “My mom and dad lived with purpose and truly made the world a better place.”
Kevin J. Cullen, director of the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center, and University of Maryland School of Medicine Dean E. Albert Reece lauded Greenebaum for helping to change the lives of thousands of people for the better.
Grandson Robert Greenebaum shared “amazing memories” he had of his grandmother, who he described as having a “sense of style,” the living embodiment of “if you look good, you feel good,” even to her last days in hospice.
“There was one thing our grandma prioritized over anything in life, and no, it wasn’t the beauty shop,” he said. “She prioritized family over everything,” which he promised to carry on.
“You taught us to lead selfless lives, showing compassion to everyone around us,” Robert said. “You were such an amazing grandma and we’ll hold you in our hearts forever.”
Marlene Greenebaum is survived by children Amy (Steve) Burwen and Michael (Adele) Greenebaum; grandchildren Robert (Amy) Greenebaum, Heather Greenebaum and Samantha Greenebaum; former daughter-in-law Nona Nisman Greenebaum; and Alexandra Kadish, Andrew Kadish and Benjamin Kadish.