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October 4, 2006


Six Alumni to Receive Townsend Harris Medals for Outstanding Postgraduate Achievement

NEW YORK, October 4, 2006 – The Alumni Association of The City College of New York will present its John H. Finley Award to Emmy Award-winning playwright Terrence McNally and Dr. Muriel Petioni, the 92 year-old physician and founder of “Friends of Harlem Hospital Center,” at its 126th Annual Dinner Thursday, October 26, 2006 at The New York Marriott Marquis.

The award, named for CCNY’s third President, is presented annually to New Yorkers in recognition of exemplary service to New York City.

Mr. McNally, a constant presence in New York theatre for over 40 years, will be honored for his prolific work, which has earned him recognition as one of the greatest living American dramatists. Dr. Petioni, a native of Trinidad, who moved to the United States at age five, will be recognized for her leadership in the medical field and for establishing health initiatives for women. Dr. Gregory H. Williams, President of The City College, will bestow the awards.

Previous Finley honorees include First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, civil rights leader Roy Wilkins, playwright Neil Simon, realtor and philanthropist Jack Rudin, actor Tony Randall, actor/activist Harry Belafonte and opera diva Beverly Sills, and last year’s recipients, artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude.

The CCNY Alumni Association will also confer Townsend Harris Medals on six distinguished alumni for outstanding post-graduate achievements:

  • Martin Cohen, ’70, co-Chairman and co-CEO, Cohen & Steers, a leading global investment firm.
  • Terrence (Terry) Elkes, ’55B, Principal and co-owner of Apollo Partners Ltd., a major private equity firm in the media industry, and former President and CEO of Viacom.
  • Jane Tillman Irving, ’69, leading TV and radio journalist, who has excelled as a reporter, talk show host and news writer for WCBS-AM.
  • Dr. Walter A. Orenstein, ’68, one of the leading experts in the field of immunization and co-editor of Vaccines, the definitive textbook on the subject.
  • Dr. Eva J. Pell, ’68, world-renowned leader in the fields of agriculture and the life sciences and Senior Vice President for Research and Dean of the Graduate School, The Pennsylvania State University
  • Dr. Alfred S. Posamentier, ’66MA, Dean of CCNY’s School of Education and an internationally recognized mathematics educator.

Marian Seldes, the Tony-award winning actress and member of the American Theater Hall of Fame, whose illustrious stage, film and television career has spanned five decades, will present the Harris medals, which were established in 1933 and are named for CCNY’s founder. Linda Kaplan Thaler, ’72, President of The Kaplan Thaler Group, the fastest-growing advertising agency in America, will be the master of ceremony.

Scholarships and cash awards will be presented to more than 75 deserving students during the program, as well. 

Tickets for the dinner, which cost $125 per person, are available through the Alumni office at (212) 234-3000. The New York Marriott Marquis is located at 45th Street and Broadway, Manhattan. 

Bios of 2006 John H. Finley Award recipients follow:

Terrence McNally

Mr. McNally’s work has earned him distinction as one of the greatest living American dramatists. He’s been a constant presence in New York theatre for over 40 years through his productions, which have explored the universal themes of difficulty in connecting and the need for love in relationships. Mr. McNally’s plays have been described as satiric and darkly comic but they have also come to be appreciated as compassionate, lyrical, and life affirming.  

The award-winning playwright’s prolific output dates back to 1964, when his first play, …And Things That Go Bump in the Night, opened on Broadway. Mr. McNally’s early successes included Next (1969), Where Has Tommy Flowers Gone (1971), Bad Habits (1973) and The Ritz (1975). 

Al Pacino and Michelle Pfeiffer starred in his motion picture adaptation of Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune, his critically acclaimed 1987 play about a waitress and a short order cook falling in love. More accolades and awards followed, including a Rockefeller Grant (1964), two Guggenheim Fellowships (1966 & 1969) and a Citation from American Academy of Arts and Letters.  

In 1990, Mr. McNally won an Emmy Award for Andre’s Mother.  Kiss of the Spider Woman, a musical that opened in 1992, earned him his first Tony. He won three more Tonys for Best Play with Love! Valour! Compassion!, Master Class, and Ragtime, a musical adaptation of the novel by E.L. Doctorow done in collaboration with Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens. 

Mr. McNally graduated from Columbia University in 1960 with a degree in English. He has been a member of the Dramatists Guild Council since 1970 and served as vice-president from 1981 to 2000.

Dr. Muriel Petioni

Petite in stature, Dr. Muriel Petioni is one of the enduring giants of Harlem. The Trinidad-born physician has worked for more than five decades as a clinician, educator and community activist, ensuring that underserved communities receive proper medical attention and equitable access to healthcare. 

Dr. Petioni founded “The Friends of Harlem Hospital Center” in 1987 on the occasion of the Hospital’s 100th anniversary. Under her leadership, the non-profit organization raised millions of dollars to ensure the survival of the Hospital, which had been under threat of closing. Its endowment fund supports enhancement projects aimed at ensuring that Harlem residents continue to receive accessible, efficient and high quality healthcare.

Born on New Year’s Day 1914, Dr. Petioni arrived in the U.S. at age five and grew up in Harlem, where her physician father settled the family. She received both her Bachelor of Science degree (1934) and medical degree from Howard University, and was the only female in its College of Medicine’s Class of 1937. Dr. Petioni worked as a college physician around the country after completing her internship at Harlem Hospital in 1939, and then devoted three years to being a housewife and mother before returning to practice in Harlem in 1950. 

Dr. Petioni has been a role model and mentor to generations of medical professionals. She founded the Dr. Susan Smith McKinney Steward Medical Society for Black women physicians, named for the first African-American woman who was licensed to practice medicine in New York State over a century ago, and has received many awards and honors. The 110 year-old National Medical Association has named its annual Women in Medicine Luncheon in her honor. 

About The City College of New York 

For over 159 years, The City College of New York has provided low-cost, high-quality education for New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines. Over 13,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in the College of Liberal Arts and Science, the School of Architecture, the School of Education, the Grove School of Engineering, the Center for Worker Education and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education.