Cindy Greatrex leads the charge to make The Gem its own city
Cindy Greatrex is the president of Independent La Jolla, a community organization comprised of citizens united by the desire to best preserve La Jolla’s great historic and environmental jewels via self-governance and lessened reliance on the City of San Diego.
She also the executive director of a foundation focused on assisting children in need of cochlear implants, via fund-raising, technology research and regulatory support.
What brought you to La Jolla?
La Jolla is an internationally recognized hub of medical technology research, which interests me both professionally and personally. We have the Salk Institute and abundant medical research facilities along the Torrey Pines corridor.
As example, next month I am attending the Comprehensive Stroke Centers of Excellence conference in La Jolla. It is a global event and most participants are flying in from far and wide. As for me, I am walking there.
And of course, the sheer physical beauty of the topography in La Jolla is astounding. The first time I drove through town, on what was meant to be a day trip, I stopped the car in the middle of Coast and said: “Where do I sign”? My reaction was that immediate and that visceral.
What makes the town special to you?
I am continually amazed by the philanthropy in La Jolla, which takes many forms and is produced by people who seek no acclaim for their efforts. The Rotary, St. Germain … too many to list here.
I am a member of the San Diego/Jalalabad Sister Cities Foundation and in that guise I see people who enter dangerous lands to support a civilian populous that is economically downtrodden to provide them with schools, health facilities and hope. I was raised with the belief that to inhabit this Earth, you need to pay rent. I am endlessly inspired by those who pay more than their share.
If you could have it done, what might you improve in the area?
Our infrastructure is poor. The coastline topography is stunning beyond belief, but the manmade maintenance of same is lacking.
Road surfacing, beach cleanliness and water run-off are recurrent issues. If I could snap my fingers for change, I would like the outcome to reflect thoughtful governance that maintains the bounty that we have all been given, for the benefit of our children and grandchildren.
At Independent La Jolla, we are vetting ways in which our infrastructure could be improved via lessened reliance on the City of San Diego.
Who or what inspires you?
Actually, my personal heroine is Marlo Thomas. To many, she is an actress. Yet in truth, she is the driving force behind St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, arguably one of the best charities in the country.
In one given day, Thomas will raise a million dollars at an event, and then stop off later that same day to deliver a requested toy to a young patient. And she sees equal value in both of these acts.
If you hosted a dinner party for eight, whom (living or deceased) would you invite?
There are endless fascinating figures in history to invite, but I believe I would go in a very specific direction and focus on the storyteller: David Sedaris, Spalding Gray, Wendy Wasserstein, Garrison Keillor, Atul Gawande. I would ask Ina Garten, The Barefoot Contessa, to act as chef, and I would invite Annie Leibovitz to photograph us for posterity.
Tell us about what you are reading.
I’m just finishing “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot. This is a fascinating non-fiction that I would recommend to everyone. It involves the ethics of research and its sometimes-unintended consequences.
What is your most-prized possession?
That would be a large portrait of Billie Holliday in her prime, taken in 1947 by the noted jazz photographer Herman Leonard. Only 50 of these were produced, and no more shall be. All 50 were off-market in private hands. I knew Mr. Leonard had one, hanging on his living-room wall.
For years, I called his office in the hope that I could buy it from him, to no avail. On the day of my 33rd birthday he called me himself and said, “You want this more than I do … I shall sell it to you right off of my wall.”
True story! I have a special light on the portrait hanging in my living room.
What do you do for fun?
Oddly enough for someone my age, I collect transportation toys, such as pond yachts, airplane models, train sets and radio-controlled sail/glider planes. Regarding the latter, we are all so lucky to have one of two U.S Gliderports right here in our backyard!
Describe your greatest accomplishment.
Ten years ago, I started a foundation providing financial assistance to deaf children requiring cochlear implants, as the FDA considered this an experimental technology.
I was confounded by such a notion, as to me it was, in essence, quite simple. Prior to the implant the children could not hear, and afterward they could.
Not every child, or parent of the child, wishes to have such a procedure, but for those who do, it seemed unfair to watch parents mortgage their houses to pay for it because insurance companies would not.
I always stated that my biggest goal in opening the foundation was to close it … in other words, to live in a world where such technology would be paid for by insurers. We are approaching that point now.
What is your philosophy of life?
Margaret Mead’s expression comes to mind: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” Very true, and very demonstrable in La Jolla.
I also think of the words of Dr. King: “The time is always right to do what is right.”
To anyone who is reading this who does not have the time to join any of La Jolla’s civic or philanthropic groups, I say please give just one a try. One group, one hour, one evening per month. Come to a Town Council meeting, or check out the Historical Society. You will get more than you give.
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