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For Jeanne Pidot, Philanthropy Is Much More Than Working With The American Red Cross

Jeanne Pidot chaired the 59th International Red Cross Ball, honoring the history of nursing and those who volunteer their time to give back.

On July 17, 1996, shortly after 8 p.m., Trans World Airlines Flight 800 took off from JFK International Airport in New York, bound first for Paris. The normally seven-hour flight lasted less than 15 minutes.

At 8:31 p.m., the Boeing 747 exploded over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 230 people onboard. Amid this tragedy, Jeanne Pidot—who recently chaired the 59th International Red Cross Ball—witnessed the power a small commitment of time and kindness could play in alleviating human suffering.

A retired nurse who'd worked in both pediatrics and recovery at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, Pidot was a volunteer with the Red Cross at the time. Immediately after the crash, her chapter opened a shelter. For the next six weeks, hundreds of the victims' survivors poured in from across the country, seeking answers, assistance, anything that could help them come to terms with the sudden and shocking deaths of their loved ones.

“We were doing identifications,” Pidot remembers. “If you were to take any 600 people and put them together, everyone would have come in there with whatever health problems they had. One man had lost his teenage daughter. He had an abscessed tooth.”

Pidot reached out to a dentist for help. He agreed, showing up that Sunday to treat the man's tooth.

“I'm just always impressed by how much time our volunteers are willing to spend,” says Pidot, a resident of Jupiter Island whose husband, Whitney Pidot, is town mayor.

The opportunity to honor the volunteers motivates Pidot to make each fundraising event more meaningful and impactful than the last. As a member of the board of directors for the American Red Cross Palm Beach and Martin counties, she's chaired 12 events for the non-profit. Such dedication earned her the National American Red Cross Clara Barton Award for Leadership, named for the nurse who started the Red Cross during the Civil War.

This year's ball borrowed from “M*A*S*H” by featuring camouflage netting, a helicopter, a dance floor modeled after the Officer's Club and special guest Loretta Swit, who played Major Margaret “Hot Lips” Houlihan on the show. The program honored the history of nursing in the Red Cross.

“We put real emphasis on what (the nurses) do,” Pidot says. “Together, these [four] nurses represented more than 200 years of helping the Red Cross. We absolutely love them.”

As a child Pidot knew she wanted to be a nurse. Her dad was a doctor. Her mother was a maternity nurse who left the profession to raise her five children. And yet, her mom still volunteered to organize blood banks for the Red Cross.

“I always admired that she had been able to take what she learned as a nurse and volunteer it to the organization,” she says.

As much as ability matters, it's willingness that defines the spirit of the volunteer. Certainly, it was the willingness of the dentist, who decided to get involved and offer his time and talents, that provided a father mourning the sudden loss of his young daughter with a measure of comfort.

It's those moments—and so many more—that inspire Pidot to do all she can for the American Red Cross.

“If you've learned CPR through the Red Cross, you might be able to respond, and you might expect to be a Red Cross volunteer,” she says. “And then, you might just become one.”