In her early 20s, Lillian Booth left her native Baltimore when Milton Berle invited her to perform in a Broadway show. She dabbled in theater prior to exploring her many other hobbies, including traveling, gardening and her lifelong career as an important philanthropist. She began making charitable donations after the 1956 death of her second husband, Col. Ferris Booth. His father had earned a fortune investing in Hotpoint and IBM, and passed on the wealth to his son, who died a decade after he married Lillian. She was a wise investor, expanding the family fortune prior to turning her attention to philanthropy.
Lillian's gifts ranged in scale from grand to simple; in addition to financing the construction of state-of-the-art hospital units, Lillian was known to drop off small boxes of chocolates as a treat for the patients. Her first major gift in the 1960s -$2 million to Columbia Univeristy- helped build the Ferris Booth Hall, a student activity center. Over the course of the 1990s, she donated $3.5 million to Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood, NJ, to build a state-of-the-art dialysis unit, as well as an oncology and radiation facility. In 1998, the hospital celebrated her $1.5 million donation, the largest single gift in the hospital's history, with a celebrity-studded black-tie gala. When her donation was announced at the reception, Lillian received thunderous applause and a standing ovation.
As an immensely popular society fixture, Lillian often drew philanthropic inspiration from her large social circle; her close friendship with the leader of The Actor's Fund of America led to a $2 million gift to support the Lillian Booth Actors' Fund Home, an assisted-living and nursing facility for entertainers in Englewood, New Jersey. Her acquaintance with an employee of Christ Hospital in Jersey City inspired Lillian to donate several transport vans that were ultimately used on September 11 to shuttle victims from the World Trade Center.
In November 2007, Lillian died at home in New Jersey at the age of 92. Remembered fondly for her energy and benevolence, Lillian left an indelible print on the medical and entertainment industries. In Manhattan's Theater District, her caricature resides on the Wall of Fame at the iconic restaurant Sardi's. Benevolent and unquestionably passionate, Lillian Booth devoted a lifetime to supporting the charities that were close to her heart.