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Family Matters

Sylvester family carries on father’s and grandfather’s legacy
Malfitano family

Jayne Malfitano, Laura Sylvester and Jena Smith


arcourt M. Sylvester Jr. was a humanitarian and a visionary. Through a foundation established in honor of his parents, his keen foresight and generous philanthropy helped launch the world-renowned cancer center that bears the family name — Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. Today his daughters and granddaughters carry on the family legacy, ensuring the Harcourt M. and Virginia W. Sylvester Foundation continues its steadfast mission to advance cancer care.

The leadership of the family foundation consists of sisters Jayne S. Malfitano, who serves as president and director, and Laura Sylvester, who serves as vice president. They are now joined by their daughters, Clare Malfitano and Jena Smith, who joined the foundation board last year.

Beyond their familial bonds, the four women share a sense of pride and purpose in their roles as board members. Pride in acknowledging all that has been accomplished over the 30 years since their family name became synonymous with cancer care in South Florida, most notably Sylvester’s prestigious 2019 National Cancer Institute designation and recognition by U.S. News & World Report as a 2022-2023 Best Hospital for Cancer Care. Purpose in helping guide Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center into the future by supporting research efforts, technological advancements, and recruitment of world-renowned scientists.

“Our father certainly had a vision, but I don’t think he could have envisioned Sylvester becoming what it is today,” said Jayne, who also serves as vice chair of Sylvester’s Board of Governors. “With that comes responsibility. The responsibility of furthering his legacy and making sure that it goes in what we all continue to feel is the direction our dad and our grandfather would have wanted.”

It is a responsibility that Clare and Jena, as the next generation of Sylvesters to lead the Foundation, take seriously.

“I was born the same year the cancer center opened, so Sylvester has always been a very organic part of my life,” said Clare. “It’s important to me to honor and continue the legacy of our grandfather, and honor our parents who have been so involved, and then bring in our generation and make as much of an impact as we possibly can and as broad a reach as we can.”

Broadening Sylvester’s reach aligns closely with Mr. Sylvester’s beliefs. He wanted to reach underserved populations and provide access to cancer screenings and health information.

“I think that’s why the Sylvester Game Changer vehicle is so close to my heart,” said Laura, noting her father’s progressive thinking. “He always said he wanted to get into areas where people did not have the means to get out to get mammograms or other testing. The Game Changer vans do just that. They bring preventative screening and other vital services directly to the people. He is probably looking down and happy that this has come to fruition.”

The family considers the opening of Sylvester’s first satellite center in 2003 in Deerfield Beach to be another outreach accomplishment. For the first time, Sylvester’s world-class care was readily accessible to people living outside the Miami area. With nine satellite centers now open throughout Miami-Dade and Broward counties, and another in North Miami on the way, patients can be treated closer to home.

Clare Malfitano

Clare Malfitano

Sylvester’s expansion has also been fueled by research and innovation. That is an area the Harcourt M. and Virginia W. Sylvester Foundation will continue to focus on in the future. Along with Dolphins Challenge Cancer, the Foundation recently gave a substantial gift to help fund the Sylvester Dolphins Challenge Cancer Living Proof Endowed Chair in Cancer Survivorship, as well as to support Sylvester survivorship funds for research and clinical services.

Having seen how cancer impacts families, hers included, Jena appreciates this commitment to enhancing survivorship efforts. She also values the groundbreaking discoveries Sylvester scientists are making towards finding life-saving treatments.

“I hope there will be more cures and preventative options for people not to go through this in the first place,” said Jena. “As a legacy, what we hope Sylvester will continue in honor of our grandfather and parents is that they stay true to their goals of providing the best care possible and advancing research to create a world without cancer.”

While the family acknowledges there is much more work to be done, they all share the sentiment that their father and grandfather would be proud to see his vision become a reality at the world-renowned Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. They pledge to continue to support Sylvester and its endeavor.

“The Sylvester family has been stalwart supporters of our mission to drive clinical cancer care, promote prevention and early detection research, and advance treatments in our relentless pursuit of cures,” said Sylvester Director Stephen D. Nimer, M.D., who is also the Oscar de la Renta Endowed Chair in Cancer Research and executive dean of research at the Miller School. “We will forever be grateful for their generosity, passion, and partnership.”

The Harcourt M. and Virginia W. Sylvester Foundation is a staunch supporter of not just Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center but also UM and UHealth. The Foundation recently made a gift to the School of Nursing and Health Studies to fund training and research to prevent human trafficking. In total, the Foundation has given more than $62 million to Sylvester and the University of Miami.