Dolan helped those in need in education and science

Helen Dolan the ‘quiet philanthropist,’ dies


Helen Ann Dolan, who led a life committed to philanthropic endeavors that benefitted her community and the world at large, died on Aug. 19 of natural causes at 96.

She and her husband, Charles Dolan, the founder of Cablevision, had marked 73 years of marriage on July 4. They met while attending John Carroll University, although both also went to the same Cleveland high school.

It’s unclear exactly when they arrived in Cove Neck, but they never left, raising their six children there, one of whom is Patrick Dolan, the owner of Newsday.

Richner Communications acquired the Oyster Bay Guardian from Helen Dolan, who was both owner and publisher, in 2010. The weekly publication has continued her efforts covering the hamlet of Oyster Bay and its surrounding North Shore communities. It was renamed the Oyster Bay Herald in 2019.

Helen Burgess was born in Cleveland in 1926. She loved music and art, taking her first classes at the Cleveland Museum of Art when she was 7 years old. According to Newsday, she described herself as “introverted and artistic,” and she was talented, receiving a scholarship to the Cleveland School of Art. But her gift was not encouraged by her parents, who believed the life of an artist would not be advantageous for their daughter.

Dolan continued her love of art and music throughout her adult life becoming a pianist and cellist, the latter of which she played in the Long Island Orchestra.

Apart from her commitment to raising her children, and enjoying her 22 grandchildren and four great grandchildren, Helen spent her life giving. She and Charles never forgot their alma mater, funding the Charles and Helen Dolan Center for Science and Technology at John Carroll University in 2003, the academic institution’s biology department. And they also funded the Charles F. Dolan School of Business at Fairfield University.

But the Dolans made an even bigger impact in their hometown.

The couple became involved at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, famous for its research on cancer, neuroscience, plant biology and genomics.

The Dolans were supporters of the lab for decades. Charles first became involved in 1968. He spent several years on the laboratory’s board of directors as did Helen, who joined in 1984 and stayed on until her term ended five years later. She joined the board again in 1996 until 2002 and was then elected as an honorary trustee.

“It’s not automatic to become an honorary trustee. People have to have made significant contributions to the lab while a trustee,” said Bruce Stillman, the president and CEO of CSH Lab. “Helen was very engaged in the laboratory.”

Dolan was a great supporter of education. She and Charles are responsible for purchasing a building formerly owned by the Cold Spring Harbor Central School District which was converted by CSH Lab to become a teaching laboratory for middle and high school students. Today 30,000 students learn in the lab-based classes at the Dolan Cold Spring Harbor DNA Learning Center.

Stillman said Dolan’s interest in the CSH Lab made sense. “She was very broad in her interests,” he said. “And she was very interested in her community and Cold Spring Harbor Lab is very much a part of this community.”

Helen and Charles were also responsible for two other initiatives. CSH Lab is a center for international scientific conferences, which scientists from all over the world attend for four to five days. But at one time they had to find their own accommodations. The Dolans rectified the inconvenience by financing Dolan Hall in 1989, a residence for the scientists and visitors. 

“Helen recognized the global impact of Cold Spring Harbor by having the world’s scientists come here,” Stillman said. “We had a tradition and still do of local scientists interacting with the community.”

The Dolans also supported the renovation of the Demerec building in 2014. The building, built in 1954, is where four scientists worked who went on to win the Noble Peace Prize.

The Dolan’s founded the Lustgarten Foundation in 1998 to promote research related to the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of pancreatic cancer. They approached the CSH Lab to focus its research on pancreatic cancer, which led to the creation of a new cancer program, Stillman said.

“Cold Spring Harbor Lab has helped nurture that foundation,” he said. “The Dolans recognized the importance of this institution which is right in their own backyard. They both sat in on meetings and were always very interested in what we were doing. Helen always asked a lot of questions and was interested in what scientists we were hiring.”

Helen and Charles were awarded with a Double Helix Medal in 2017 by CSH Lab, which honors those who have been prominent supporters of science. Mohamed Ali was the first recipient of the award for his work as a prominent spokesman for medical research for Parkinson’s disease.

Dolan also served on the board of directors for the Community Foundation of Oyster Bay, a not-for-profit that raises funds to help local organizations that support charitable work benefiting local residents in need.

Cathy Hogg, the past president of the foundation, said Dolan will be missed.

“Mrs. Dolan and her husband Charles have been long-term and most generous supporters of the Community Foundation,” Hogg said. “Their sustained generosity has made such a difference to how many important programs the Community Foundation has been able to support over many, many years, and has touched so many lives of neighbors in need in our town.”

The Dolans were also longtime supporters of Friends Academy, which their grandchildren attended. Because she so loved the arts, Helen was instrumental in ensuring the students had a place to express themselves artistically. The Helen A. Dolan Center, which includes a 400-seat theater, art studios and a dining hall, was built for this purpose at Friends. 

Dolan was known on the North Shore as someone who was there when she was needed. She was also beloved.

“Helen really cared about people, that’s what touched me about her,” Stillman said. “She was very down to earth, really an amazing person, kind and gentle. And Helen never seeked recognition. She was the quiet philanthropist.”