For four years in a row, James Magazine selected Renay Blumenthal as a “power chick” based on her experience in establishing policy on important issues such as healthcare and education. Blumenthal might even be one of the most influential behind-the-scenes people who doesn’t make headlines. As president of the Grady Health Foundation, she brings together philanthropists, corporate leaders and civic activists to increase public awareness, raise critical dollars and improve the quality of healthcare services for metro Atlanta and the state.
“Renay is a coalition builder, a skilled diplomat and an expert fundraiser with a stellar track record for getting things done – especially for Grady,” said Drew Evans, past chairman of the Grady Health Foundation’s board.
Blumenthal is a wife and mother and an Atlanta native who has raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Grady. “I am just grateful that I am able to give back and to serve those who are really doing the heavy lifting.”
Learn about Blumenthal’s graciousness, work ethic, and 112-year-old Sephardic grandfather.
Jaffe: What was life like growing up in Atlanta?
Blumenthal: I am a product of Atlanta and DeKalb County public schools. Then I went on to a degree from Georgia Tech and an MBA from Georgia State.
Since I was born in the old Georgia Baptist Hospital and worked in state and city politics, the Metro Atlanta Chamber and now Grady, (laughing) I say, “I have lived my entire life in a five-mile radius.”
Jaffe: It’s fair to say you are well-connected. I’ll throw out some names for you to comment upon:
Governor Zell Miller: A smart leader. My favorite phrase of his, which I still use today is: “Is that juice worth the squeeze?”
Governor Roy Barnes: A fabulous leader and caring person. He hired me even though I didn’t really know him at the time he won the election. He liked that I was not a “yes person” and was able to “argue” about the issues with him.
Mayor Shirley Franklin: A genuine, honest leader. I had the honor of serving her during the “sewer crisis,” which often involved marathon City Council sessions.
Pete Correll: Mentor, friend and current “boss,” who recruited me to Grady. He and his family are just amazing, and I couldn’t imagine where our community would be without him.
Jaffe: Why should Grady Hospital be important to us?
Blumenthal: Atlanta literally could not live without Grady. If Grady were to close, the other hospitals in the region collectively would not be able to absorb our volume. Thanks to the incredible support of leaders like Pete, Bernie Marcus, Frank Blake and so many others, today we not only serve all who come through our doors, we also offer highly skilled care in areas such as stroke and trauma that you can’t get elsewhere.
Jaffe: You have a mellow approach to fundraising.
Blumenthal: I approach fundraising as “friendraising” – based on relationships. As a general rule, when you ask someone for something, it should not be the first time you meet them.
Jaffe: Your pledging commitment odds are good?
Blumenthal: About 85 to 90 percent say “yes,” but it’s hard to say “no” to Grady!
Jaffe: On a lighter note, tell us about your late grandfather who lived to just shy of 112.
Blumenthal: I adored my grandfather! Nass Almeleh was born on the Isle of Rhodes, Greece, and immigrated to Ellis Island at 19 in 1918.
He was quite the entrepreneur and went to Long Island to set up his burlesque and beach cabana concession businesses. After he had earned enough money, he wrote home to ask to have a suitable Sephardic wife “sent over.” My grandmother packed up a steamer trunk of her belongings and married a man she hardly knew.
That worked well until she decided that she hated New York! She was related to the Shemaria family (of Bennie’s Shoes) and after connecting with her Uncle Bennie, they moved to Atlanta, where he took up the shoe repair and hat cleaning business.
Jaffe: What was his secret to longevity?
Blumenthal: He drank two cups of warm water and lemon every morning. At lunch he had a Budweiser, and a high ball before dinner. He was resilient, had a sense of humor and didn’t let stress get to him.
He worked until age 98 and died just before his 112th birthday, with his mental capacity still intact. I got my work ethic from him.
Jaffe: Growing up at Congregation Or VeShalom, what was your favorite Sephardic food?
Blumenthal: I can just smell those boyos (feta spinach pastry) and quesado (a casserole also with spinach, cheese and elbow macaroni – had to be elbows!) Now you’ve made me hungry!