Florence Ward Garvin, saved Mazzoni Center from closure

Florence Ward Garvin, a former board president of Mazzoni Center who helped the agency avoid closure in the 1990s, died Sept. 8 of a heart attack. She was 89 and lived in Media.

Ward Garvin served as president from 1994-96. She stepped into the role after then-executive director Francis Stoffa Jr. resigned under a cloud of corruption. Stoffa was accused of embezzling about $200,000 from the healthcare agency and subsequently was convicted of multiple charges, including theft by deception, tampering with public records, misuse of credit cards and related offenses.

City officials threatened to cut off funding for Mazzoni Center due to the controversy. Ward Garvin’s skillset and influential connections were instrumental in maintaining the agency’s funding and propelling it forward, said Paul Scoles, who succeeded her as board president.

“Florence was a barracuda with pearls,” recalled Scoles of his friend and colleague. “She defended the agency like a bulldog. But she was always very pleasant, even with the people she was at loggerheads with. The city was ready to close the agency down. Without Florence, there would not be a Mazzoni Center today. No question about it.”

Scoles said Mazzoni was heavily in debt when Ward Garvin arrived on the scene and helped stabilize the agency. She reconstituted the board with talented people who restored its credibility, he added.

“Florence was the calvary that rode over the hill and saved the organization. Regaining the confidence of city officials was necessary to ensure the agency’s future. The city held the purse strings. With Florence as board president, city officials felt [Mazzoni Center] was in hands they could trust.”

Ward Garvin also helped raise significant private donations, Scoles said.

“She helped raise a great deal of money for the organization, which at that point was technically bankrupt. It had bills in excess of its assets. She was the person who brought the team together who turned it around.”

With Ward Garvin at the board’s helm, Mazzoni Center had an annual budget of about $400,000 and nine employees, and was serving around 5,000 patients. Today, the agency has a yearly budget of about $18.5 million and 170 full- and part-time employees, serving some 35,000 patients.

“I believe Florence could take great pride in what she did for the organization,” Scoles said. “She’d be delighted [with its growth]. I was a little apprehensive to step into her shoes and succeed her as board president. I couldn’t have done it without her. She was there when I needed her.”

Ward Garvin’s death is a great loss for the community, he said.

“She was a charming person. We remained friendly long after she left the board. It was a pleasure to know her.”

According to published reports, Ward Garvin was born into an Army family and grew up in Japan. She graduated in 1949 with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry and biology from Our Lady of the Lake University in San Antonio, Texas. She held numerous jobs in the fields of chemistry, education and advertising throughout her professional career. She also served on the boards of several other nonprofit agencies, in addition to Mazzoni Center.

She married twice and is survived by a son and a daughter.

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Tim Cwiek has been writing for PGN since the 1970s. He holds a bachelor's degree in history from West Chester State University. In 2013, he received a Sigma Delta Chi Investigative Reporting Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his reporting on the Nizah Morris case. Cwiek was the first reporter for an LGBT media outlet to win an award from that national organization. He's also received awards from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, the National Newspaper Association, and the Keystone Press.