January 19, 2020

Joyce Brandman: Ensuring a legacy of giving

Aside from a small silk flower arrangement on the coffee table, everything in Joyce Brandman’s office belonged to her husband. The high-gloss oversized desk flanked by angular, low-slung black leather chairs. The African masks, the stuffed bulldog that bares its teeth when you pull its chain. The painting of a diner in Walnut Ridge, Ark., where Saul Brandman was stationed during his years in the military.

But Joyce, president and managing director of the Joyce and Saul Brandman Foundation, is moving the organization soon — to smaller offices in the same building, across Wilshire Boulevard from Barneys and Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills — and she plans to give the new space a bit more of a feminine touch, add some of her own flair, she said.

It’s been two years since Saul died at the age of 82, and Joyce Brandman is as committed as ever to continuing the philanthropic work she and her husband forged together over the past 40 years. And she is doing it in her own style.

She’s arrived at two pivotal decisions in the last few months: to focus her giving on smaller gifts to smaller institutions, as opposed to large donations, such as a recent $8 million gift to Hebrew University; and to give away all of the foundation’s money in her lifetime. She said that after her passing she will have bequeathed more than $200 million.

Brandman, who is in her 60s, wants to be sure the money goes to causes close to her heart — health care, education, Israel and supporting the elderly, the disabled and military personnel.

“I’ve seen this happen too many times, where a foundation is left and then the people that step in give to their own favorite charities — their alma maters, their causes —  not ours. I don’t want that to happen. It has to go where Saul Brandman originally wanted it to go,” she said.

Saul’s four children from his first marriage aren’t involved in the foundation, she said. She and the small board will continue to make grants and then will designate endowments for specific institutions. After her demise, she said, the Joyce and Saul Brandman Foundation will no longer exist.

Brandman has been involved with the foundation, which has two other staff members, since she retired from the garment industry 16 years ago, and two years ago it became her full-time job.

“I think being a donor is changing from the way it used to be. People don’t want to just write their check and walk away. They want to know — and I believe they have a right to know — what the organization they are supporting is doing with the money and how the organization runs,” Brandman said.

Her first major project was the founding of the Saul and Joyce Brandman Breast Center at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in 2000.

Brandman’s idea for the center was inspired by the kind of treatment she wished she’d had as a breast cancer patient in 1999 — a place where women could get quick and thorough answers, where different doctors work as a team, where all a woman’s needs are met, from medical strategy to nutritional advice to psychological support. Until two years ago, Brandman volunteered at the center three times a week, fundraising and acting as a peer counselor for other patients.

Brandman takes a hands-on approach to all her charities. Last year, she funded and went on a medical mission to Guatemala that set up a mobile hospital and treated 1,100 patients in five days. She stayed in military barracks (she brought her own tissue paper to line the wooden shelves), took cold showers and was ready to work at 7 every morning. Brandman served as an assistant to a gynecologist from the Brandman Breast Center, helping with charts and being present for exams. She plans to go again in March 2011.

Brandman has established and volunteered at summer camp programs and ski vacations for children who are blind or deaf, or who have other disabilities.

The foundation is a major supporter of the Los Angeles Jewish Home and funded a Holocaust library and survivor’s room at Chapman University in Orange.

Chapman is also home to Brandman University, which offers online and in-person classes geared toward midcareer students, military personnel or others who can’t attend college full time.

Most recently, Brandman bequeathed $8 million to Hebrew University, where she is on the board, for an interdisciplinary science building that will serve everyone from undergraduates to medical students to post- doctoral students.

But from now on, Brandman said, she plans to go smaller.

“I feel very strongly now that there are a lot of small organizations that, if you give them $25,000 to $50,000, it really makes a difference,” she said.

She knows it will take more work and research, but she’s not afraid of that and said she already has lists of organizations she knows she can help.

Her mah-jongg partners turned her on to an organization that provides school clothes for underprivileged children. In the past, the foundation has funded medical students or taken care of struggling families, and Brandman funded a program to pay rent and supply appliances for returning military personnel.

Brandman’s husband, father and brother all served in the military.

She grew up in a working-class family in the San Fernando Valley, where she attended public school. She also worked in the garment industry and got to know every aspect of the business.

“I can tell you exactly how to make that jacket,” she says, pointing at a visitor. “How many yards of fabric and how many zippers. I can cost it out and figure out how to mark it up for the profit you need.”

She met Saul working in the industry. He grew up in Los Angeles helping his father at his downtown haberdashery and earned his fortune through hard work in clothing manufacturing and real estate.

Brandman said her husband was known as warm and interested, touring the factory regularly to connect with each department.

“If you asked him to borrow $100 and he knew he wasn’t going to get it back, he would give it to you anyway,” she said.

“He was my Prince Charming, and I was his Cinderella. He made me what I am today — you’re looking at him in disguise,” she said.

Saul and Joyce were an item for 25 years before they got married in 1993.

He had been married twice before, and they were happy living 15 minutes away from each other. Then, without telling anyone, they got married while on a trip to Rome.

“I guess he figured after 25 years we’d better be in one house,” she said.

“You can’t miss what you don’t have,” she said about not having kids, though she now wishes she were a grandparent. Still, she is hardly alone — she is close with her brother and his family and recently became the godmother of her friends’ twin grandchildren.

And she always lives with Saul’s legacy.

“My husband was a self-made man. He was not the type of person that boasted about his money,” she said. “What was important was what the money did — to make our lives and our family’s lives a quality life, and to be able to reach out and help others.”