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Remembering Julie Cawley, leading Delaware philanthropist

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Julie Cawley, second from left, at the Emmanuel Dining Room’s 40th anniversary dinner, November 20, 2019. Also featured (left to right) Michael Nash, Micki Edelsohn, Toni Nash, and Dr. Lanny Edelsohn. Photo TSD.

Julie P. Cawley, a generous supporter of leading Delaware institutions serving the poor and those with cancer, passed away in Wilmington on Friday, June 5.

Cawley was the wife of the late Charles M. Cawley, founder of MBNA Bank, and together the two provided foundational financial and strategic support for important local organizations including the Ministry of Caring and ChristianaCare’s Helen F. Graham Cancer Center.

Born in Brooklyn, New York to Dr. Hugh L. and Helen Murphy, Cawley earned a Bachelor of Arts from Dunbarton College of the Holy Cross in Washington, DC and later a Master’s Degree from Towson University.

 

For many years Cawley was a special education teacher in Towson, Maryland, before coming to Delaware as her husband established MBNA as one of the state’s top employers.

The Cawley’s support for a range of charities serving those in need was swift and significant.

“She cared about so many things — local hospitals, nonprofits, and education in schools,” said Priscilla Rakestraw, assistant director of the Ministry of Caring.  “And many times she brought these causes, or opportunities, as she called them, to Charlie. And they adored each other – they were a true team.”

Julie and Charlie Cawley

Rakestraw said Julie Cawley was instrumental in establishing two new childcare centers operated by the Ministry.

Cawley family support also helped the Ministry purchase the Sacred Heart Oratory and establish a soup kitchen and dining room there at 10th and Madison Streets.

 

“Julie’s kindness and caring towards humanity, towards other people, propelled her to do things like advocating that Charlie and the bank donate two buildings which became our Childcare Center and the Guardian Angel Center,” said Rakestraw. The first childcare center opened in 1989.

“There is no one who has given the level of leadership inspiration and funding that the Cawleys have given. And you’re not going to get an argument from anybody on that,” she said.

Related: Emmanuel Dining Room: feeding the hungry for 40 years

When her close friend Helen F. Graham was diagnosed with cancer in the 1990s, Julie Cawley led the founding of a new cancer center at ChristianaCare named in her honor in 2003.

Graham was a lifelong friend of Julie Cawley’s — growing up and spending summers together on Long Island and later both working as special education teachers in Baltimore.

 

Nicholas Petrelli, the center’s medical director said the Cawley’s influence and generosity changed the way cancer is treated in Delaware.

“Julie and Charlie always answered the call to help,” said Petrelli. “Many of the cancer programs that exist today for our patients were due to the generosity and support of Julie and Charlie Cawley. They both have left a legacy for the quality of cancer care for present and future Delawareans.”

The hospital said the centralized cancer center the Cawleys created helped take Delaware from having the worst cancer mortality rate in the country in 2001 to now being 18th in the country.

 

Close Cawley family friend Toni Nash remembered Julie Cawley’s “strength, her courage and her faith” as defining characteristics of the devout Catholic. 

“Julie inspired and touched many lives including mine through her lifelong volunteer work and philanthropy,” Nash reflected. “She was a genuine person. She always gave you her full attention. And she loved helping people.”

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