May 24, 2023
Over the last 31 years, Hartford Hospital’s Black & Red gala has earned its reputation as one of Connecticut’s premier philanthropic events. That position remained solidified this past spring when the 31st Annual Black & Red made its triumphant return to The Bushnell by welcoming over 1,200 guests to downtown Hartford and breaking previous Black & Red fundraising records.
One married couple from the nearby Farmington Valley has almost seen them all—and they recall getting decked out for the 2nd Annual Black & Red in 1992.
“So, I am the arm candy,” jokes Tom Lonergan. “I go because Dolores goes—and we’ve been to almost every Black & Red except a handful. I bought my tuxedo in my early 20s and it still fits! Black & Red has helped me get a lot of use out of it.”
“He also wore it to our wedding,” his wife Dolores adds with a chuckle.
Tom Lonergan and Dolores Grenier, two longtime supporters of Hartford Hospital, have been married for 34 years. Dolores has been a consistent presence at the Hospital, having served as Co-Chair of the Hospital’s Annual Campaign and a Corporator of Hartford Hospital. A former elementary school librarian with a passion for literature and research, she also fittingly volunteered to steer a book cart through the Hospital’s halls for several years as she delivered books to patients.
Dolores and Tom’s deep connection to Hartford Hospital began on a sad note with the unfortunate passing of their 13-month-old daughter Cara in 1991. Little Cara was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect just days into her life and underwent two heart surgeries at the Hospital before her untimely departure.
“It was tragic and very difficult to understand,” Dolores shared in a 2005 interview for Hartford Hospital’s Honor Roll of Donors. “But my lasting impression of the experience is of the generous and caring spirit of the medical staff and doctors. We hugged, they shared our grief, and they came to Cara’s memorial service.”
That experience and relationship with members of the Hospital’s pediatric cardiology team led to decades of volunteerism and philanthropic support that has kept Cara’s memory alive—and it all started with Black & Red.
“After Cara died, I went to see my OBGYN and she mentioned there would be a gala to benefit pediatrics—and she thought I might be interested in getting involved,” shares Dolores. “So as a way to change my grief into something positive, I volunteered for my first Black & Red—and that morphed into my involvement with philanthropy at Hartford Hospital.”
Three decades later, Dolores and Tom recently attended their latest Black & Red in April, where they experienced the event’s highly anticipated return to The Bushnell. Thanks to their regular attendance at the annual soiree they have become unofficial Black & Red historians.
“It’s been nice to see how the event has evolved over the years,” shares Dolores. “From the beginning, when it was held at the Farmington Marriott, it was more like a dance—it was like going to a fancy wedding. You had dinner, a silent auction, and there was some dancing with an orchestra.”
“Then it moved to the Sheraton in Hartford, but it had the same format,” adds Tom. “Several years later they brought Black & Red to the Belding Theater in The Bushnell, but then the Hospital filled that up—so they had to expand into the rest of The Bushnell.”
In addition to the change in venues and overall growth of the event, Dolores and Tom also reflect on other big changes to the Black & Red over the years.
“The introduction of the musical act wasn’t something they had in the early going,” shares Tom. “The two acts I liked best were Mandy Patinkin and Rita Moreno—both of them were excellent singers. They intermixed their songs with funny stories about their lives. They were just very entertaining. She was the real deal—she could sing, dance, and act.”
“I always enjoyed seeing the videos on particular patients,” says Dolores. “Some are real tear-jerkers and I’m always struck by the miraculous treatment the doctors provide these patients. Those stories always provide me confidence and reassurance that we have good healthcare here—that if something were to happen to me, they can just put me in an ambulance and I’ll get great treatment.”
“This year’s story was particularly moving,” adds Tom. “It was even more moving to see the entire audience stand and applaud for the patient.”
“We know we’re going to have great food, great entertainment, and you always feel welcomed by the Hospital,” says Dolores. “The attention to detail is meticulous and they provide us with an unforgettable experience each time.”
While Black & Red’s most dedicated attendees enjoy the event’s fabulous spreads, entertainment, and elbow rubbing—it’s the connection to Hartford Hospital that keeps bringing them back.
“It’s a homecoming for me,” shares Dolores. “At the last one, I saw Dr. (Michael Anthony) Miranda, who did my knee surgery. Another woman came over to say hello and at first…I didn’t recognize who she was. It turned out to be my physical therapist Stefanie Bourassa—she was out of uniform and that was fun. It’s nice to see medical personnel in a different environment.
“I have an emotional attachment to the Hospital,” adds Dolores. “When Cara died, it took me a while to look at the Hospital, because it brought back too many memories. But as the years have gone by I’ve realized that it’s a part of my history—my family’s history.”
Tom and Dolores estimate they missed just a handful of Black & Reds over the years (2021 was a virtual fundraiser due to the COVID-19 pandemic)—mostly due to the adoption and raising of their two young daughters, Teresa and Elisa. The Hartford Hospital Philanthropy Department thanks Tom and Dolores for their ongoing support and attendance at Black & Red—and we hope to see them at Black & Red 2024.
Get ready to mark your calendars—Hartford Hospital will be announcing a date for the 32nd Annual Black & Red in the coming weeks.
Editor’s Note: Previous Black & Reds were also hosted at the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in downtown Hartford and the Radisson Hotel in Cromwell.