DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — It was an evening to honor the best of Brooklyn at the fourth installment in Brooklyn Hospital’s ongoing series celebrating its 175th anniversary. Ten of the borough’s most illustrious civic leaders and organizations past and present were awarded medals of recognition for their impactful efforts in helping to shape and define Brooklyn during a celebration at the River Café.
The honorees were Keith Kinch, co-founder and general manager of Bloc Power, a Brooklyn-based technology startup rapidly greening American cities; Robert Catell, chairperson of the Advanced Energy and Research Technology Center; the late Seth Faison, a trustee and former board chair of Brooklyn Hospital; George Harris, trustee emeritus of Brooklyn Hospital; David Henry Hwang, the Tony-winning playwright, screenwriter, television writer and librettist who serves as associate professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts; Barbara Just, director of nursing at Brooklyn Hospital; the late Albert Kronick, former chair and CEO of Abraham & Straus in Brooklyn; Dr. Yvonne Riley-Tepie, vice president and senior regional giving manager at TD Bank Charitable Foundation; the late Emily Warren Roebling, who led the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge and Michael “Buzzy” O’Keeffe, the founder of the River Café.
Gary Terrinoni, president and CEO of The Brooklyn Hospital Center, welcomed guests and thanked Brooklyn Hospital Foundation’s VP and Chief of Development Debbie Niederhoffer and her team for putting the event together.
“It’s hard to imagine a more iconic venue at which to celebrate Brooklyn,” said Terrinoni. “By most accounts, Brooklyn’s Renaissance began in this very spot thanks to our host, Michael ‘Buzzy’ O’Keeffe.”
Terrinoni talked about the venerable history of Brooklyn Hospital and the new editions planned for the hospital’s future. “The hospital grew up around that first cornerstone in the very spot it is today, in 1845. Facilities were built, renovated and renovated yet again — always responding to the changing community,” said Terrinoni.
He explained that the hospital had broken ground on an expanded and modernized Emergency Department just a few days ago. “We’ve begun to deliver a series of important transformations that will better serve the borough and enable us to continue that same mission for another 175 years,” he added.
Lizanne Fontaine, board chair of The Brooklyn Hospital Center, quoted Walt Whitman, the recipient of the first 175th medal, who wrote in 1862 that Brooklyn Hospital was one of the most useful and humane of all institutions of our city.
Fontaine added, “When we embarked upon our anniversary we were struck by how the founding of Brooklyn Hospital was woven into the founding of the borough.”
Carlos Naudon, immediate past chair of The Brooklyn Hospital Center, explained that the hospital had chosen to honor 175 individuals and icons, and asked guests to submit their own nominations. “As of tonight, we have 28 honorees and we welcome your suggestions for future folks to honor,” said Naudon.
Fontaine explained that honoree Emily Warren Roebling was the first person to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. “You might say that the bridge’s construction was the Roebling family business. Its design began under the direction of civil engineer John Roebling, who was later succeeded by his son, Washington Roebling. After Washington grew ill, Emily stepped in to lead the construction of the bridge,” added Fontaine. Her great-great grandson Kristian Roebling accepted Roebling’s award.
“I love accepting this on behalf of my great-great grandmother. From everything I’ve read she was an incredibly generous, peaceful and giving human being who not only accomplished an incredible amount in her lifetime but did it with incredible grace, humanity and humor,” said Roebling.
O’Keeffe, who created the River Café, 1 Water St., in 1977 as New York’s first waterfront restaurant, was delighted to receive the award from Brooklyn Hospital.
“When you think that Brooklyn is five times bigger than San Francisco and six times bigger than Boston, that makes it extremely important. Lasting 175 years is a miracle for anything and it’s just a wonderful, wonderful anniversary to have,” O’Keeffe added.