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NYC Gilda’s Club CEO Questions Wisconsin Branch’s Move To Change Name

Gilda Radner

Gilda Radner, seen in 1980 in New York. (Credit: -/AFP/Getty Images)

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NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The chief executive officer of the original Gilda’s Club in New York City on Wednesday questioned the choice by a branch in Wisconsin to change names because younger generations might not remember its namesake, Gilda Radner.

The Gilda’s Club branch in Madison, Wis., has decided to change its name to Cancer Support Community effective in January. The branch made the decision on the grounds that current college students were born after Radner’s death in 1989, and thus, younger people dealing with a cancer diagnosis might be confused by the unfamiliar name, according to the Wisconsin State Journal.

1010 WINS’ Holli Haerr reports

But speaking to CBS New York Wednesday afternoon, Gilda’s Club New York City CEO Lily Safani said the Gilda’s Club name had never caused any confusion at the founding branch.

“I have never had a problem with people not knowing,” Safani said. “It’s not an issue of whether they know Gilda Radner or not. It’s more an issue of whether they know what we do.”

Safani said people of all ages know full well that Gilda’s Club is a network that provides support that treats people of all ages with cancer, as young as the age of 4, and as old “as anyone can live.”

“Gilda’s Club” is a brand name, and ultimately, it is most important that people know the brand, Safani said. She said whether people know the brand does not depend on whether they know who Radner was.

“People don’t live forever, and I don’t understand why people don’t question all the other brands that are named after people who have died,” she said. “A lot of people don’t remember certain people, but they know a company.”

Safani pointed out that there are other organizations that use names of deceased people who may be unfamiliar to the average person – far more unfamiliar, in fact, than Radner.

“Look at Susan G. Komen,” Safani said. “She’s not alive, but people know what the organization does.”

But Gilda’s Club New York City does not have the authority to ask the Madison branch not to change the name, Safani emphasized.

“Each clubhouse is an independent 501(c)(3) organization with their own governing board, and we can’t say anything. We can express our concern, but they do good work, and whether they want to have the name as Gilda’s Club or Cancer Support Community, they’re still doing great work, and people need to remember that,” she said.

The decision by the Madison branch to change its name has brought widespread backlash, including a scathing column Wednesday by Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper.

“One of the surest signs of the incurious and lazy mind is when someone brushes off ignorance of a particular subject by saying, ‘How would I know about that? It was way before my time,’” Roeper wrote in dismissing the motive for the name change by the Madison branch.

No other branch has announced plans to change its name.

Gilda Radner was an original cast member of Saturday Night Live, from 1975 until 1980. She became known for characters such as the crass “Weekend Update” commentator Roseanne Roseannadanna, and a Barbara Walters parody named Baba Wawa.

Radner was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 1986, and died three years later.

The original New York flagship Gilda’s Club was founded after shortly Radner’s death, by her husband, Gene Wilder, and her cancer psychotherapist, Joanna Bull. Its mission is to provide emotional and social support to cancer patients.

The New York branch opened its signature red door in 1995, at 195 W. Houston St. in the West Village.

Adam Harrington, CBSNewYork.com

What do you think about the Madison branch deciding to remove Gilda Radner’s name? Leave your comments below…