Pancreatic cancer activist Wendy Keil, 60

Pancreatic cancer activist Wendy Keil, 60

Wendy Brody Keil, a veteran fund-raiser for the Jewish National Fund and an ardent crusader in the fight against pancreatic cancer, died Sept. 27, nine months after being diagnosed with the usually fatal disease.

She was 60 years old.

Until three weeks ago, Keil commuted daily from her Morristown home to her job at the JNF office in Florham Park.

“She wanted to work until the very end,” said Joel Leibowitz, JNF’s Northeast Zone director. “While she was receiving chemo or radiation treatments she would be calling donors on a cell phone,” he told NJ Jewish News the day after her death. “People would say to her, ‘Why are you working?’ and her comment would be, ‘What am I supposed to do? Stay home and wait to die? This keeps me going.’ She wanted to work up until the end.”

In a June 24 interview, Keil told NJJN that four years after conquering breast cancer “my greatest fears were realized.” Blood tests showed  a malignancy had reappeared in the form of Stage IV pancreatic cancer and had spread to her liver. A chemotherapy regimen she began was not working.

Despite a grim prognosis, Keil and her daughter, Heather, joined some 600 other volunteers in Washington, DC, on June 14 for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network’s fifth annual Pancreatic Cancer Advocacy Day. The two women lobbied members of Congress to allocate more funds for pancreatic cancer research.

In her interview, Keil said one optimistic sign was the identification of the PALB2 gene, which at some point could help in the development of a genetic test for Ashkenazi Jews and others who might be carriers.

“Wendy was a passionate advocate for finding a way to defeat pancreatic cancer, and we will honor her and countless others taken too soon by this devastating disease by continuing to advance research, support patients, and create hope,” wrote PCAC president and CEO Julie Fleshman in an e-mail to NJJN. “She had such tireless energy and left a legacy of giving back and volunteerism that has served as a model for so many others.”

Keil is survived by her husband, Gordon; her children, Adam and Elizabeth Keil, Sarah and Michael Chernoff, and Heather Keil and Noah Keil; and her grandson, Brody Keil Chernoff.

Wendy Brody was born at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center and graduated from Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School before receiving a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and a master’s in education from Northeastern University. Her first job was working with sick children at the Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

Later, she became a substitute teacher at Far Brook School in Short Hills and Morristown High School before beginning her fund-raising career at JNF.

Keil and her extended family are prominent philanthropists in the MetroWest area and beyond, supporting Hadassah Hospital, Israel Bonds, the MetroWest UJA campaign, and Temple Emanu-El in Westfield.

Such support was a family tradition. Her father, Herbert Brody, a cofounder of the Pathmark supermarket chain, and her mother, Frances, lent their name to the Herb and Frances Brody Early Childhood Center in Whippany, now defunct, as well as the Herb and Frances Brody Center for Food Sciences at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

“I was brought up to be giving,” Keil told NJJN in June. “It is best to be giving before you are affected.”

She was buried at Beth Israel Cemetery in Woodbridge on Sept. 30 after a funeral service at Temple B’nai Or in Morristown. Arrangements were handled by Bernheim-Apter-Kreitzman Suburban Funeral Chapel, Livingston.

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