Carol M. Baldwin, the matriarch of the Baldwin clan who harnessed her sons' celebrity to build a major breast cancer research center and fund, has died. Baldwin was 92 and had been living in her hometown of Syracuse, where she remained on the board of directors of the upstate research fund she founded 20 years earlier.
In an Instagram post Thursday night announcing his mother's death, Alec Baldwin wrote: "My mother taught me about second acts. And third ones, too. She spent the last 25 years of her life as a fighter and a champion for the cause to which she devoted her life. We are all enormously proud of her accomplishments."
Born Carol Martineau in Syracuse, Baldwin spent much of her adult life as a homemaker in the Nassau Shores section of Massapequa, where she raised four sons and two daughters. Her husband, Alec, who had been a popular social studies teacher and football coach at Massapequa High, died of cancer in 1983. After she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1991, she began to suspect an environmental link.
In the spring of 1997, on the eve of initiating her first major fundraising effort, Baldwin told Newsday that "I cried and I cried and I cried" after learning of her diagnosis. "I had four operations in 10 1/2 months and finally, I said to myself, `Hey, wait a minute. You have to get a hold of yourself.' I could see I was frightening my children, who had lost their father to lung cancer just a few years earlier, and I was frightening my grandchildren." She said that she had "lived across from a golf course my whole married life" where "they sprayed and sprayed and sprayed."
"I absolutely think there's an environmental connection and we're going to find it."
Baldwin's initial goal in 1997 was to raise $1 million, which was easily exceeded. By October of that year, the Carol M. Baldwin Breast Care Center at the University Medical Center at Stony Brook was dedicated.
Shirley Strum Kenny, president of Stony Brook University at the time and now living in McLean, Va., recalls that Baldwin was "very accessible, very nice, and very committed to this cause. I also think [her effort] opened the door to more and more attention to cancer research and fundraising for cancer initiatives." Afterward, Kenny said, "Stony Brook really took off in those areas."
"People talk about finding that one thing in your life, and the one thing she found was fighting breast cancer and she found it up until the day she passed," said Dr. Brian O'Hea, chief of the breast surgery division at Stony Brook University's Renaissance School of Medicine and director of the Baldwin Breast Care Center.
O'Hea said Baldwin "would say her biggest success was raising her family. But by being an advocate for individuals suffering from breast cancer and being a comfort to them, she also raised the public's awareness and that resulted in a more diligent search for early detection and probably saved a lot of lives."
In his Instagram post, Alec Baldwin wrote that his mother "met her future husband, Alexander R. Baldwin Jr., of Brooklyn, NY, while both attended Syracuse University. In 1954, Alec, as the father was also called, moved the family to Long Island where he taught history and coached football and riflery at Massapequa High School until his death, at age 55, in 1983."
Baldwin is survived by her six children — daughters Elizabeth Baldwin Keuchler, who is also on the board of directors of the Breast Cancer Research Fund of Central New York, and Jane Sasso; and sons Stephen, Alec, William and Daniel.
Per Baldwin's post, she also has 25 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.