Teedy Dabney, wife of school founder Dr. John Hilton Knowles and an Honorary Trustee, leaves a legacy of generosity and dedication

The MGH Institute has lost one of the last direct connections to its founding with the passing of Edith L. “Teedy” Dabney.

Dabney, who was 93 when she died in February, had a front-row seat when her husband, Dr. John Hilton Knowles, conceived the idea of creating an “MGH University” during his time as general director of Massachusetts General Hospital in the 1960s and early 1970s. The idea of having a free-standing graduate school affiliated with a medical center was considered a radical idea at the time, but it was one that Knowles was positive could work.

And while the family had moved to New York City and was not on hand to see the IHP become a reality in 1977—just two years before Knowles tragically died at the age of 52 while he was president of the Rockefeller Foundation—the Institute remained near and dear to Dabney’s heart.

“She loved the IHP, she really did,” said her son, John H. “Joe” Knowles Jr. “She was all about education so having a school where people could continue to learn and then go help patients was something she really liked.”

Dabney, who married Lewis Dabney a few years after her late husband’s death, maintained a steady connection to the Institute over the decades. In 1997, the 20th anniversary of the IHP’s founding, she joined the Board of Trustees. The school was at a crossroads at that time, struggling with a budget deficit, an enrollment of just 500 students, and in need of a permanent home. Befitting her constitution as a person who strived to get things done, she joined with Ann Caldwell, who had just come on board as the IHP’s fourth president, to help find such a home.

Woman sitting at table smiling
Teedy Dabney remained a supporter of the MGH Institute throughout her life.

The lease at 101 Merrimac Street, where the Institute held its classes, was to expire in a few short years. Caldwell, Dabney, and the rest of the board began reaching out across Greater Boston, talking to potential donors about supporting the still-fledgling graduate school. By 2002, more than $4.5 million was raised—including a $2 million gift from the Catherine Filene Shouse Foundation—which provided the down payment to purchase a former joinery building in the Charlestown Navy Yard and secure its future.

By the time Dabney left the board in 2003, she had been its vice chair as well as chair of the External Relations Committee. A resolution commemorating her service, when she was appointed an honorary trustee, described her as a “benefactor, civic leader, community volunteer, and trustee extraordinaire [who] has demonstrated enthusiasm for and dedication to the Institute over many years. She has led by example with her generous gifts of time, money, and expertise, notably spearheading the successful fundraising for the Catherine Filene Shouse Building, and Institute students have benefited from the generosity of Ms. Dabney and her family in many ways.”

“She was a very positive influence on the board and people would listen to her,” recalled Caldwell. “People respected her not only because of who she was but how she worked to make the MGH Institute grow and prosper.”

After Dabney left the board, she regularly attended the school’s fundraisers where she would spend time with students who were named John Hilton Knowles Scholars, a merit-based academic scholarship the family created to give preference to students from backgrounds currently underrepresented in the health professions. Those scholarships are part of the more than $1 million the family has contributed to the Institute over the past 47 years.

And in 2017, Dabney was one of the first people to meet with newly appointed President Paula Milone-Nuzzo.

“She wanted to hear all about the Institute and the vision for the future,” Milone-Nuzzo said. “Teedy was proud of the Institute’s growth under Ann [Caldwell] and Jan [Bellack, who served as president from 2007 – 2017], and was looking forward for that work to continue and expand. She was happy to see that we were continuing the important legacy that her late husband started so many years ago.”  

To Joe Knowles, who followed Dabney’s lead and has been a trustee for several years, his mother was simply carrying on the old-time New England Yankee ethos of making the world a better place. As he said at a celebration of her life held in March, “Mom was born with a sense of obligation, an abiding belief that to those of whom much is given, much is required. So, she went to work. Turns out that talent and empathy, capability and sensitive, tend to go hand in hand. That working with others, together with others, is what brings results. That was her forte—she brought people together.”

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