Alumni Newsmakers | Living Life “The Right Way” | The Art of Vision | In Memoriam | Artists’ Quarter |
The Language of Care | Alumni Bookshelf
Living Life ‘The Right Way’
During his multifaceted career, Salvatore Cumella, BA ’73, MD ’78, has worn many hats. He’s had to while balancing his interests in fields including medicine, education, public relations, and philanthropy. But no matter the field, Cumella applies the same axiom to all he does. It is advice his Sicilian-born father, a respected physician, passed on to his son years ago.
“My idol and role model has always been my father. He encouraged me to get an education and to help other people,” Cumella says. “He said, ‘Whatever you do, the challenge is to try and do it the right way. And in the end, you will always be remembered for your integrity and honesty.’”
For Cumella, the “right way” has been a journey down many paths, one that has connected him with many people. It has led him to earn awards and accolades, notably the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, a tribute he shares with the likes of Elie Wiesel, Bob Hope, and six past U.S. presidents. According to the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, the award is presented to Americans of diverse origins for their outstanding contributions to their own ethnic groups and to American society.
It is perhaps not easy to find the links between the fields of his work and his interests—everything from hypnosis to gymnastics to community activism—but the heart of his motivation is clear: appreciation.
Born and raised in culturally rich Brooklyn, N.Y., Cumella has traveled to and lived in many different countries, gaining fluency in Italian and Spanish and an appreciation for both the countries he visits and the United States.
“Studying and living abroad gave me a better appreciation for America; a clean glass of water, paying taxes and seeing the results, less corruption in the government,” Cumella says. “A lot is done here. We have accountability in this country, and not everyone appreciates that. First-generations realize that. I realize that because I’ve lived in other countries.”
This realization has led him to work tirelessly for many New York organizations, including: Comptroller Alan Hevesi’s Italian-American Advisory Council, the New York Academy of Sciences, the New York Women’s Agenda, and Forum’s Children Foundation.
The foundation aids infants and children from economically challenged countries with life-threatening congenital heart defects. Cumella and his team gain support and funding to sponsor the surgeries free of charge.
“We’ve helped children in Iraq, Afghanistan, and China, and we bring them to New York with their mothers,” Cumella says. “We’re trying to present goodwill to different countries and to all children.”
Cumella’s interest in and appreciation for medicine has been primarily educational. He hopes to instill in students in the medical field a desire to connect with patients—a desire he learned from his father.
“Through teaching medicine, I can help a whole community rather than a few of my patients,” Cumella says. “Once I learn something, I learn to teach it. ‘See one, do one, teach one’ was the motto instilled during medical school—it reinforces my knowledge.”
“In my father’s day, we had more learning. We had more house calls, more caring and connections, less paperwork and lawsuits. I wanted to go into medicine to give back to the community the opportunities I was given.”
As an undergraduate at GW, Cumella brought his commitment to community to the student body as president of both the Inter-Residence Dorm Council and the student body, and worked to make Mitchell Hall co-ed.
“I came out of my shell in college,” Cumella says with a laugh. “I had teachers, especially Sam Munson and Herbert H. Hobbes—‘H-Cubed’—who really inspired and motivated me.
“I met six of my best friends there, and the seven of us, The Magnificent Seven, we became inseparable. We tried to make a difference.”
Cumella still makes a difference at GW, recruiting and inspiring potential students at career counseling sessions.
Following another passion, Cumella’s interest in radio programming merged with his concern for women’s health issues when he was executive producer for “Women for Women” in 2001. Co-hosted by Linda Blau and Elinor Guggenheimer, it won a Gracie Allen Award.
A self-proclaimed “reformed male chauvinist,” Cumella worked on the program to educate women about women’s health, social issues, politics and business.
His excitement and appreciation for myriad subjects will continue to take Cumella down many different paths, but for now, he has a simple goal.
“My parents had the perfect marriage. I waited to get married for so long because I was waiting for that kind of marriage,” Cumella says. “Now that I’ve found my wife, I plan to have that with her.”
Back to top | Fall 2003 Table of Contents