The Gift of Giving
For the late philanthropist Annette Bloch, sharing her blessings was a way of life
By Daniel Vaillancourt
Over the course of writing the show script for the last 11 Steve Chase Humanitarian Awards for DAP Health (formerly Desert AIDS Project), I’ve had many encounters with the extraordinary humanitarian Annette Bloch, who passed away of cancer at the age of 94 in her hometown of Kansas City last year.
The diminutive philanthropic powerhouse spent winter seasons in Palm Springs, first with husband Richard, of H&R Block fame, then later in life — following Richard’s death, also to cancer — with life partner Andrei T. Muresan. Bloch was a quite formidable presence in all corners of our community, attending benefits, volunteering, or dining out with dear friends.
It’s at DAP Health’s biggest annual gala that I personally basked in her aura, coaching her at rehearsals or bantering backstage during the customarily star-studded show. At soirées such as these, Bloch was perennially coiffed, dressed, and bejeweled to the nines. And she was always a funny, utter joy.
One evening in particular is forever etched in my mind. It was at the 2018 event, where Bloch was to appear onstage alongside DAP Health CEO David Brinkman to make an astounding gift of three million dollars. Brinkman had asked me if I could escort her into the spotlight. Moments before her name was announced, I turned to her in the dark of the wings and softly asked, “Are you ready?” “I’m ready,” she replied. I took her hand, which was freezing, providing her unique twist on that old “cold hands, warm hearts” adage. “Are you nervous, Annette?” I uttered. “I am,” she whispered back. “I hate speaking in public. But I just love to give!”
And give she did. That night, long before, and long after. To DAP Health, to other causes and organizations in which she believed, but mostly, of herself to her beloved Andrei, her treasured family, and her dearest friends.
We’ve asked a handful of them to share their most precious recollections of Bloch, below.
Andrei T. Muresan
Exercising was an intrinsic part of Annette’s lifestyle and of who she was. So the image that most often comes to mind when I think of Annette is her going to the gym and working out regardless of the weather or her mood. This discipline speaks to the fact that when Annette would commit to something, she would stay true to her commitment no matter what. And her smiling face all throughout the exercise routines — together with her adorable, colorful workout outfits — point to the idea that Annette always found a way to derive enjoyment, to have fun in a commitment. I think “discipline” and “fun” are the two words that would faithfully describe in a succinct manner the essence of Annette’s personality.
Annette lived her life committed to the power of positive thinking. No matter the circumstance, she elected to spend more time contemplating the good. When COVID hit, she was grateful to be at home with Andrei, living full-time in the desert and Zooming with her family each and every Sunday. On the hottest days of summer, she’d say, “David, I am so lucky. The bright sun is beautiful, and I’m in the shade reading books on the patio. There is no place I’d rather be than here with Andrei.” While the last years of her life were not filled with the travel and parties she once lived for, she discovered pleasure in the pandemic’s requisite isolation. And through focusing on the positive, irrespective of COVID, she found the exuberant joy and gratitude by which she defined her life.
I was always struck by how down-to-earth Annette was. She never forgot her roots in Philadelphia and was always so grateful and appreciative about her good fortune. That’s why she was so generous to others. She would always say, after a gift was announced, or after making some other philanthropic gesture, “I'm just glad I could do it.” She didn't need accolades or applause. She just wanted to help where and when she could.
It was an honor to call Annette Bloch one of my dearest friends. She was kind, sweet, smart, generous, energetic, funny, and one of the most loving people I have ever met. Her positive attitude and joy for life were contagious. I always knew where to find her in a crowd; she was the one surrounded by people — who flocked to her because of her positive energy and love of life, very much like Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind.” The greatest lesson I learned from Annette: surround yourself with positive people. Life is too short for negativity. She was a force!!!!
Annette was one of the kindest and most sincere individuals I’ve ever met. Even though she was a very successful individual, she had the ability to make everyone in her presence seem special. A few of my most special memories of her are when she held my face in her hands and told me that she loved me after I gave her flowers for her birthday. I stressed over what to give to someone who has everything for her birthday. I decided to purchase a very nice floral arrangement for her, and she was so overjoyed that I thought enough of her to buy her flowers. I also remember when she was hosting a dinner for my dear friends David Brinkman and Will Grimm before they were married on a weeknight. I told her that since I worked in Long Beach throughout the week, I really didn’t think I could attend. Once again, she held my face in her hands and said, “It would really mean a lot to David if you were there.” I was able to adjust my schedule in order to attend, seeing it meant so much to her and also wanting to be there for David and Will. However, the most memorable and special thing Annette ever did for my husband Daniel and me was that she and Andrei invited us to their home for dinner. She didn’t cater the meal but instead prepared everything from scratch. Since Daniel and I lived in Kansas City for eight years, we enjoyed a traditional KC BBQ dinner. It was such a lovely evening. I will never forget how she always made Daniel and me feel special. We both miss her terribly.
Annette was a kind, generous person and a wonderful friend! My wife Barbara and she were a formidable team in the charity world. Together, they provided immeasurable support for so many people in need in the Coachella Valley. Most importantly, Annette was a shining example of the joy one can spread as she fully enjoyed her amazing, long-lived life.
An amazing, generous woman, Annette was the most positive person I have ever known and the most devoted, thoughtful friend. Her beautiful smile was a true reflection of her personality and soul. I remember when I became the chair of the 100 Women program of DAP. In the more than five years since its inception, its membership had stalled in the mid-30s. I told Annette that my goal was to grow the group to at least 100, and began soliciting my friends, more than doubling the membership that year but still short of my goal. Annette decided my mission was her mission, and at that year's Steve Chase gala, when she was onstage being honored with the 100 Women Award, she took the opportunity to challenge the women present in the audience to stand and make the $1500 annual commitment to help me reach my goal. Forty women answered Annette’s call that night, raising more than $60,000 and growing the 100 Women ranks to 125! Annette will be remembered with love by all who were fortunate enough to know her and by all of the clients whose lives she impacted through her tremendous support of DAP.
In addition to being an inspiring philanthropist, Annette was a real-life Auntie Mame. She literally picked up my husband, Michael, and me at a cocktail party about 15 years ago. She said “You’re fun. I like fun people. Let’s spend time together.” And we did, having many adventures and travels with her and her partner Andrei. We all had dinner a few weeks before she passed away. Although she was being treated for cancer, she was having a good day and she was as vivacious, joyful, and upbeat as the day we met. Like we had done many times before, we “closed" the restaurant that night. Annette was an optimist and a fighter to the very end, and a role model of how to grab life with both hands and live it.