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Marion Newbert Jorgensen

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Marion Newbert Jorgensen, a civic leader and philanthropist, dies at 96

Marion Newbert Jorgensen, a civic leader and prominent philanthropist in Los Angeles for five decades, died Wednesday at Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, CA. She was 96.

Marion Newbert was born on March 18, 1912 to Mr. and Mrs. Leroy Newbert of Chicago, Illinois. In 1913 she moved West with her family by private railroad car and later attended Marlborough School, one of the foremost college-preparatory schools in Los Angeles. A licensed aircraft pilot at the age of 17, she attended the noted liberal arts college Finch College in New York City and returned to Los Angeles.

In 1930, she married movie producer Milton Harold Bren, who was the Executive Vice President and Producer at MGM Studios and experienced Hollywood during a time of tremendous growth in the entertainment industry. He served in the United States Naval Services during World War II as a Lieutenant Commander. They had two sons, Donald Bren, chairman of The Irvine Company in Newport Beach, CA and Peter Bren, a senior partner with KBS Investors of New York City, NY.

While Great Britain was at war in Europe in 1940, Mrs. Jorgensen founded Bundles For Britain, an organization that provided non-military aid to the British people. Women crocheted sweaters and made clothing as Bundles For Britain sent food and clothes overseas from the then-neutral United States. When the United States entered World War II in 1941, Bundles For Britain evolved into the United States Naval Aide Auxiliary. Mrs. Jorgensen was the president of this organization that provided aid to service personnel and United States Navy and Marine dependents.

After the conclusion of her first marriage in 1947, she met steel entrepreneur Earle M. Jorgensen while doing volunteer work for the Red Cross. They were married in 1953 and their 47-year wonderful union continued until Mr. Jorgensen’s passing in 1999.

The Jorgensens were among the social elite of Los Angeles. The couple remained close friends with Ronald and Nancy Reagan for more than 40 years, as Mr. Jorgensen served on Mr. Reagan’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” an informal network of businessmen who advised Mr. Reagan and urged him to run for governor of California in 1966 and later for President. Mr. and Mrs. Reagan celebrated his election to the governorship of California and his election to the presidency of the United States at the Jorgensens’ house.

“I was privileged, and blessed, to know Marion Jorgensen as a dear friend for almost fifty years. She was one of the most generous women I have ever known. There isn’t a worthwhile cause in this country that hasn’t benefited from Marion’s generosity. She loved politics, music, education, the arts, and gave liberally to medical research and children’s charities in Los Angeles and across the nation,” said Mrs. Ronald Reagan.

“I will never forget the extraordinary loyalty and kindnesses that Marion and her late husband, Earle, showed to Ronnie and me over the years that we knew them. Earle was part of Ronnie’s “Kitchen Cabinet” and it became a tradition to spend Election Night with our friends at the Jorgensens’, which we did for both gubernatorial and both presidential elections.

“Marion has always been there for me personally in so many ways, but in recent years -- certainly since the day Ronnie announced he had Alzheimer’s -- Marion never missed a day in calling me just to be sure I was doing okay.

“My love and sympathy goes out to her two children, Don and Peter, and her entire family.”

Mrs. Jorgensen was credited with sparking her husband Earle’s interest in philanthropy and they were active in many civic, cultural and charitable causes including the Boy Scouts, the YMCA, several hospitals and the Los Angeles Music Center.

“My mother enjoyed a wonderfully fulfilling life and was a strong inspiration to me,” said Donald Bren. “Her commitment to philanthropy and to the communities in which she lived impacted me deeply and formed my passion to give back to the community.”

Mrs. Jorgensen began working with Saint John’s in the 1950s and led committees, engaged volunteers and spearheaded legendary evenings such as the Dinner for Prince Charles, the Black and White Ball with Bob Hope, and a series of star-studded evenings, the Bal Rouge and the Crystal Balls, with Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Joey Bishop.

After the 1994 Northridge earthquake threatened to close the hospital forever, she agreed to serve on the First Step Committee and co-chaired the Campaign Cabinet to lead the Campaign for Saint John’s. She served as a leader on many important Foundation committees including Board Affairs and the Executive Committee and allowed the small community hospital to rebuild from the devastation and attain the flagship status Saint John’s enjoys today.

Last October, Mrs. Jorgensen was presented with the Spirit of Saint John’s Award by the Saint John’s Health Center Foundation Board of Trustees in recognition of her many contributions. The award honors an individual whose vision, determination and generosity of spirit have advanced the mission of the Health Center.

Mrs. Jorgensen shared her husband’s commitment to the California Institute of Technology, particularly in regard to student support. In 1993, as part of the Campaign for Caltech, the Jorgensens established a scholarship program to endow the Marion and Earle Jorgensen Scholarship Fund. Together, their scholarship fund and scholarship program continue to extend financial aid to numerous Caltech undergraduates.

After serving with distinction on the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, Mrs. Jorgensen was honored by her peers with election to Life Director. She was the first woman to serve as chairman of the board of overseers of the Huntington Library Art Gallery and Botanical Gardens, and for her service in developing the world famous botanical gardens, she was elected Trustee Emeritus.

Mrs. Jorgensen was an Honorary Trustee of Childrens Hospital Los Angeles and served on the board of The Colleagues. Included among the other philanthropic endeavors that benefited from Mrs. Jorgensen’s support over the years were the Los Angeles Orphanage Guild, the ARCS Foundation, the American Red Cross, Loyola Marymount University and the Prince of Wales Foundation.

Additionally, Mrs. Jorgensen served on the President’s Blue Ribbon 400 for the Los Angeles Music Center and as director of the Los Angeles Symphony Association, was a Member of the Board of Trustees of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and was a Founding Member of the James Madison Council of the Library of Congress, the first-ever national advisory and support group in its 205-year history.

She also served as a member of the board of Continental Airlines and Frontier Airlines.

Mrs. Jorgensen is survived by her sons, Donald and Peter Bren, four Jorgensen children and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A private funeral will be held and memorial donations may be sent to: Saint John’s Health Center Foundation, 1328 Twenty-Second Street, Santa Monica, CA 90404.
Published in the Los Angeles Times on June 20, 2008
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