In many ways, Frank Symosek embodied the Greatest Generation.
Patriotic and deeply committed to his country, he fought courageously in World War II. After the war, Frank achieved success as a textile industry businessman through ingenuity and self-determination.
His nearly 100-year-long life was shaped by a sense of duty and service to his family, community and nation.
His nearly 100-year-long life was shaped by a sense of duty and service to his family, community and nation. And from his first $25 gift to Massachusetts General Hospital in 1992, to contributions years later from his IRA to the Mass General Cancer Center, Frank quietly showed gratitude by giving back.
Courage, Curiosity and Hard Work
Born to Polish immigrants, Frank grew up in a modest North Andover, Massachusetts, household. He worked in the nearby Merrimack Valley woolen mills and graduated from the Lowell Textile Institute (now University of Massachusetts Lowell) in 1941.
Following graduation, Frank enlisted in the Navy and helped carry out dangerous missions during World War II. In the Pacific theater, he transported soldiers into battle against the Japanese. Despite a serious bout with malaria, he reenlisted and delivered British troops to Normandy’s Sword Beach during D-Day. Frank earned the rank of lieutenant junior grade and was honorably discharged in 1945.
Back home, Frank briefly enrolled in Harvard Medical School but left to pursue a business opportunity in Maine. It was the start of a long and fruitful career in the textile industry.
He founded a wool import business and later, in his 80s, built the Andover Woolen Company. Frank was always interested in how things work. “He was a curious, very smart man,” says Jan Symosek, his daughter.
Dedication to the Community
Frank valued his community and its important institutions. He supported his Catholic church, Lawrence General Hospital and Mass General.
“He came from nothing,” Jan says. “And after many years, when he became successful, he would say, ‘You have to give back.’ ” Frank didn’t publicize his philanthropy. “He simply did it out of a dedication to the community,” says Peter Symosek, his son. In later years, Peter helped his father with his finances and charitable giving.
Because he strived to stay current with politics and changes in the tax law, Frank continually revised his charitable-giving strategy. He employed the IRA ‘charitable rollover’ law, which lets people direct some of their required distributions after age 70 ½ straight to charity. For Frank, that meant paying less in taxes on excess income.
Giving So Others Don’t Suffer
After nearly 50 years of marriage, Frank’s wife, Theresa, passed away in 2001. Frank was grateful for the care Theresa received at the Mass General Cancer Center. Peter recalls his parents spoke particularly highly of Leif Ellisen, MD, PhD, now the program director of Breast Medical Oncology at the Mass General Cancer Center, as “one of the most compassionate caregivers” they encountered.
“Unrestricted gifts give us the greatest flexibility to support the most promising projects …”
In tribute to Theresa, Frank began directing his Mass General gifts toward the Mass General Cancer Center. “It was important for him to give back because he was so appreciative,” Jan says.
Peter imagines his father made these gifts “with the hope that they would help with cancer research, help promote breakthroughs and help so others don’t have to suffer.”
Absolutely Vital Giving
“Support from donors like Frank Symosek is absolutely vital to our ability to advance research and provide better care and better outcomes for our patients,” says Daniel Haber, MD, PhD, director of the Mass General Cancer Center. “Unrestricted gifts give us the greatest flexibility to support the most promising projects – ranging from fundamental research in the lab to better understand how cancer develops and responds to treatment, all the way to first-in-human clinical trials testing new genetically-targeted and immune-based therapies.”
A few months shy of his 100th birthday, Frank passed away in 2018. His legacy, and the positive impact he made on the Mass General Cancer Center, remain.