Pearl Gershman Basser, volunteer and philanthropist, dies at 81.

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Pearl Gershman Basser, 81, of Philadelphia, who went from humble beginnings to become a passionate advocate for and philanthropist to the Basser Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania, died Friday, April 14, at a daughter’s home in New York City.

The cause was cancer, family members said. She and her husband of 65 years, Philip Basser, lived in Center City.

The Basser Center, located within Penn Medicine’s Abramson’s Cancer Center, focuses on research of the inherited BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.  When mutated, both genes increase the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers.  Mutations in the genes also increase the risk of certain other cancers in men and women.

The Basser Center was named in honor of Mrs. Basser’s daughter, Faith Basser, who died of ovarian cancer in 2002.

Mom was a woman of incredible strength, a source of unconditional love to all who knew her, and prided herself in passing down traditions and a dedication to philanthropy,” her surviving children said through a family spokesman.

Mrs. Basser was born in Philadelphia in 1935, the youngest of four children of deaf, Russian immigrant parents, Rebecca and Harry Gershman.  Her father was a tailor and her mother was a homemaker.

After attending South Philadelphia High School, Mrs. Basser took courses in bookkeeping and estate planning at Community College of Philadelphia. For decades, she worked as a bookkeeper for Schubert, Bellwoar, Mallon & Walheim, a Philadelphia law firm; Alesker& Reiff, a local architectural firm; and eventually for Philip B. Basser Advertising, her husband’s ad agency.

Her volunteer work started at a young age when she was a hospital Candy Striper. She later went on to volunteer for many local hospitals and civic and charitable organizations, and over the years, knitted numerous hats and blankets for premature babies. 

A member of Temple Beth Zion-Beth Israel in Center City, Philadelphia, Mrs. Basser also served as a member of its board and was vice president of the Sisterhood.  She was a lifetime member of ORT, the world’s largest Jewish education and vocational training non-governmental organization, and of Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America. She donated both her time and resources to these charities, her family said.

In addition to her husband, Philip Basser, she is survived by her son, Stephen Basser, and his wife Crissy; two daughters, Shari Potter and Mindy Gray and their husbands, Len Potter and Jon Gray, and Gus Calderone, the widower of her daughter Faith; 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

The funeral will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday, April 18, at Central Synagogue, 652 Lexington Ave., New York, NY. Burial will follow the service at Montefiore Cemetery, 600 Church Road, Jenkintown, PA.

Donations may be made in Mrs. Basser’s memory to the Basser Center for BRCA at the University of Pennsylvania ( 

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