Mark Furst, a longtime M&T Bank executive who went on to run the United Way of Central Maryland and become a senior vice president at Kennedy Krieger Institute, died Wednesday of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, at his Kingsville home. He was 64.
A father of two daughters who was married to his lifelong sweetheart, Sandy, for almost 40 years, Mr. Furst pivoted from a successful career in banking in 2004 to philanthropy, where he made family stability a hallmark of his service. Mr. Furst was president and CEO of the region’s United Way for 12 years until he left in 2016 to lead external relations for Kennedy Krieger.
“Really, Mark had a boundless amount of energy and enthusiasm and positivity,” said Lisa Nickerson, a friend of Mr. Furst’s and an assistant vice president at Kennedy Krieger who reported directly to him. "At the same time, as a lifelong Baltimore resident and someone in business for years, he was well loved and well trusted. In one word, he was authentic.
A son of Judith S. Furst and the late Frederick V. Furst III, Mark Furst was born in Baltimore and was the oldest of six children. His mother was a homemaker, and his father was executive vice president of finance and support services at Mercy Medical Center. Mr. Furst graduated from Loyola Blakefield and Towson University. The first chapter in his professional life was spent in banking.
Mr. Furst left M&T Bank as a senior vice president after a 22-year career. Although he enjoyed working in banking, Mr. Furst’s sister, Kelly Nolan of Hunt Valley, said taking the job at United Way was a chance for her brother to more directly impact the needs in the community.
“He wanted to bring about family stability as a way of making change and helping get people out of poverty,” Ms. Nolan said. “He saw the needs that existed. He never wants the spotlight to be on himself. Everything has been about bringing light to an issue and to people in need.”
Mr. Furst wrote an op-ed for The Baltimore Sun in 2014, “The formula for family stability.” In it, he spotlighted an initiative at United Way designed to rapidly re-house homeless families and to prevent others from becoming homeless through consistent and intensive case management. He drew a connection between student mobility in neighborhoods with high concentrations of evictions and education as a pathway out of poverty.
“Teachers, principals and school superintendents tell us that adverse student mobility — children being forced to change schools repeatedly through life circumstances, including homelessness — is among their most vexing problems in seeing children succeed in school. The best way to deal with homelessness, especially when young children are involved, is to prevent it,” Mr. Furst wrote in outlining his plan to address the perennial problem.
During his time at the United Way, Mr. Furst was credited with helping to redefine the nonprofit’s role in the community.
“The changes that Mark Furst led for United Way were monumental and profound," said Patty Brown, a former president of Johns Hopkins HealthCare who was chairwoman of the United Way of Central Maryland’s board during Mr. Furst’s leadership.
"He transformed the United Way into an organization fully focused on its ‘why’ — its mission. Under Mark, United Way was no longer a fundraising organization; it became an impact organization. And with those changes came a renewed trust and relevance for United Way within our community.”
The team that worked for Mr. Furst at United Way called him an “unwavering moral compass.” They said his leadership was transformative and his drive to create a better Maryland was infectious. He was always striving to serve the community faster and more efficiently, the United Way team said, and he did so with passion, commitment and urgency.
Mr. Furst moved on to the Kennedy Krieger Institute after helping the region’s United Way make that shift. He worked at Kennedy Krieger for about three years through his diagnosis with glioblastoma. He was involved with the institute and its affiliate organization PACT: Helping Children with Special Needs for some 25 years as supporter, a donor and a member of the board.
The institute recently honored Mr. Furst and his wife with a scholarship fund in their names.
Mr. Furst also received the Volunteer of a Lifetime award at the United Way of Central Maryland’s annual Tocqueville Society event in September.
Stacie Kwoka, Mr. Furst’s sister, said her brother was a member of St. Isaac Jogues Catholic Church in Parkville. He enjoyed fast cars, listening to the Beatles, taking pictures and traveling with a beloved group of friends. He was a sharp dresser and fitness buff who participated in spinning classes and could even do a split well into his 60s.
“He had a little stint with golf, but he didn’t like it,” Mrs. Kwoka said.
Her brother faced his diagnosis with bravery and realism.
“He always had this catch phrase, ‘It is what it is,’ ” said Mrs. Kwoka, of Landenberg, Pennsylvania. “He fought as hard as he could; cancer doesn’t discriminate.”
A goal Mr. Furst had as he neared the end of his life was to walk his daughter, Sarah Zoppo, down the aisle at her wedding. And he did just that in July when she married , Giuliano Zoppo at St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church in Little Italy.
Details for a funeral service and burial are incomplete.