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Sidney Erwin Daniels, raised funds for wellness center

Sidney Daniels died Oct. 20. SHe was 84.
Sidney Daniels died Oct. 20. SHe was 84. (Handout photo)

Sidney Erwin Daniels, a Baltimore philanthropist and socialite who combined her Southern charms and entertaining skills to recruit donors for a cancer support center, died of complications from dementia and cancer Tuesday at Broadmead retirement community in Cockeysville. She was 84.

"She was a savvy, smart woman of means who would not take no for an answer," said Suzanne Brace, executive director of HopeWell Cancer Support, the Lutherville nonprofit that Mrs. Daniels helped establish in the early 1990s with a series of teas and cocktail parties for prospective donors. "She was a firecracker, the person who made it happen. Without her, HopeWell would not exist."

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Born in North Carolina, Mrs. Daniels was a debutante and member of the Charlotte cotillion. She attended a girls boarding school in Virginia, then studied fashion and costume design at Finch College in New York City, long known as a private "finishing school" for young women from affluent families.

After working for an interior design firm in San Francisco, Mrs. Daniels moved to Baltimore in 1959 and married Edwin A. "Ned" Daniels, who later became a Rouse Co. vice president, executive director of its charity foundation and an active supporter of the arts. The couple lived in Roland Park and Ruxton. Their marriage ended in divorce in 1977.

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Mrs. Daniels served on the board of Planned Parenthood Maryland, according to her daughter, Frances Stewart Daniels Cobb of San Francisco.

In addition, Mrs. Cobb said, her mother served as chair of the women's committee of the Walters Art Gallery, organized many fundraising events and helped develop and open the museum's gift store.

It was after the deaths of several friends to cancer that Mrs. Daniels became engaged in an effort to create a wellness center for people with cancer in Baltimore.

She attended a meeting with Harold Benjamin, the California attorney who in the 1980s established a national network of support centers for cancer patients, providing them with settings for support groups and free workshops in an atmosphere that raises their optimism and hopes for recovery.

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At the reception for Mr. Benjamin, Mrs. Daniels met Ms. Brace, a breast cancer survivor who was new to Baltimore.

"She and I formed a bond quickly," Ms. Brace said. "Knowing a lot about cancer, but nothing about Baltimore or fundraising or starting an organization, I needed her and she needed me. So we became a team. She opened doors."

The women embarked on an effort to establish the wellness center, with Mrs. Daniels arranging receptions, sometimes at her home, for potential donors and calling on doctors and bankers for support. She helped raise about $250,000 in startup funds.

According to Ms. Brace, it was Mrs. Daniels' sense of humor, mild Carolina accent and skills as a hostess that opened checkbooks. Donors, she said, would be "plied by her charm and her food," then asked for a promise of support, and Mrs. Daniels usually got it.

HopeWell opened 21/2 years later in an office building in Towson, with Ms. Brace as its executive director. The center later moved to its present site, a farmhouse on 81/2 acres on Falls Road in Baltimore County. It offers dozens of programs each month, including workshops and lectures, yoga and meditation classes.

Mrs. Daniels raised millions of dollars for HopeWell over the years, Ms. Brace said. "She was indomitable," she added. "She kept us going and growing. She used her social standing to bring in [donors]."

Mrs. Daniels also traveled to her girlhood home in North Carolina to convince old friends to "give us a little sugar," Ms. Brace said.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Daniels is survived by three granddaughters, Hannah Lane Cobb, Charlotte Frances Cobb and Sally Finn Cob; a niece, Dorsey Waxter of New York City; and a nephew, Shreve Waxter, of Columbia.

A memorial service will be held Monday at 4 p.m. at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, 1316 Park Ave., Baltimore.

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