Her family was forced to flee their war-torn homeland and her mother suffered with depression for decades. Yet Audrey Gruss has built a legacy of service upon life lessons directly connected to those struggles.
“You can lose everything tangible at any moment, but no one can ever take away your education,” she told the 400 people gathered at The Breakers Tuesday for the Palm Beach Atlantic University Women of Distinction luncheon. “To the students who are here today, I say you are in the right place to start your life’s journey.”
Gruss and Laurie S. Silvers were recognized as the 2019 Women of Distinction for their exceptional contributions to the community. Proceeds from the annual luncheon benefit a scholarship fund for female students.
President of the Audrey and Martin Gruss Foundation, Gruss had an extensive career in international marketing and advertising. The former co-owner and president of an international scientific skincare firm, she held executive positions at J.P. Stevens and Elizabeth Arden, where she was director of advertising and creative services worldwide.
Gruss and her family fled their native Lithuania during the World War II-era Communist takeover. “Imagine if you and your family were uprooted overnight,” she said. “My parents had one precious thing – their education.” Her multilingual parents – they spoke Lithuanian, German and French – brought their young family to the United States, became fluent in yet another language, and impressed upon their children the profound importance of education. Gruss graduated with honors from Tufts University; her degree in biology has served her well in relating to scientists and physicians in her philanthropic endeavors.
It’s been especially helpful in her work as founder and chairman of the Hope for Depression Research Foundation (HDRF), which she established in memory of her late mother, Hope, who suffered with depression for more than 30 years. “I saw a vital need for funding for the study of depression, the common cold of the mind,” she said. This work has been guided by another piece of life wisdom Gruss shared: “Take on something difficult and negative, and turn it into a positive. The difficult things in life can become your personal challenge.”
Silvers, a lawyer and media entrepreneur, was co-founder of the Syfy Channel, where she served as chief executive officer from 1988-1992 and co-vice chairman from 1992-1994. She is co-CEO of Hollywood.com, a celebrity news and entertainment provider; owner of eSports Holdco; and owner of Treasure and Space Coast Broadcasting. She serves on the Board of Trustees of the University of Miami, and is a board member at the Kravis Center for the Performing Arts and United Way of Palm Beach, among others.
With humble thanks, Silvers said she’d spent a good bit of time reflecting on what it meant to be a woman of distinction. In doing so, she thought of some of history’s truly great women: Mother Teresa, Eleanor Roosevelt, Madame Curie. “None of these women started out to be icons,” Silvers said. “They simply felt a need to help others and in doing so, made the world a better place.”
While she expressed that her greatest accomplishments have been as a mother and grandmother, Silvers also believes that hard work, leadership and dedication to personal growth can help women make their mark on the world. “I truly love helping others through mentoring and volunteering and being part of something I feel passionately about,” she said. “If we work to create a brighter, better place in our little corner of the world, the light we create will spread to all corners of the world.”
The program began with a video tribute to the late Bebe Warren, former educator and the wife of PBA founding chairman Dr. Donald Warren. Mrs. Warren, who passed away in May 2018, established the Women of Distinction luncheon in 1991 and was a dedicated philanthropist in her own right.
The event was co-chaired by Eileen Burns and Frances Fisher, both former Women of Distinction honorees. Gruss was introduced by the last year’s Women of Distinction honoree, Ambassador Bonnie McElveen-Hunter; 2018 co-honoree Candy Carson gave the introduction for Silvers.
PBA students Charis Flake and Rachel Sakrisson are the 2019 Women of Distinction scholarship recipients. Flake is a senior majoring in communications, and Sakrisson is a senior English major. Musical selections were performed by the PBA Concert Choir under the direction of Dr. Geoffrey Holland.
Photo: Palm Beach Atlantic Uninversity President William M.B. Fleming Jr. with 2019 Women of Dinstinction honorees Laurie S. Silvers (left) and Audrey Gruss.