After losing her daughter to brain cancer, a mother turned heartbreak into hope
“She was a steel magnolia,” said Judy Howell when asked to describe her close friend and former colleague, Anne Worthington Tesiero Beith, who passed away in 2017. “She was a perfectionist who always knew what she wanted and worked hard to get it. She was driven, had a sense of humor and was a very private person. She didn’t want to call attention to herself.”
Despite her humility and desire to stay out of the limelight, Beith did catch many people’s attention, and her legacy as a fiercely devoted and loyal friend, mother and employee continues today. The lasting impact of Beith’s drive and focus is evident throughout her life story, both professionally and personally, and those closest to her treasure the memories they share of the moments their lives crossed paths.
As her friends would say, Beith was a complicated woman who had a simple upbringing. She, alongside her sister and two brothers, grew up on a tobacco farm in North Carolina in the 20s and 30s. Life on the farm was by no means easy, but hard work and humble beginnings helped shape and strengthen Beith’s faith and fortitude. At the time, she had no idea just how much she would need and rely on those qualities as sustaining and steadying forces decades later when weathering through several tragic chapters of her life.
Determination and an adventurous spirit eventually led Beith away from farm life and to the city of Richmond, VA, where she secured a job at Reynolds Metals Company. She also fell in love with and married James Tesiero, and, together, they had a daughter, Carol Tesiero. Their one and only child, Carol was their world.
Professionally, Beith was quickly recognized for her high standards and incredible work ethic, remnants of her childhood on the farm, and she easily progressed through the ranks, eventually landing a revered position on executive row. “She was Julian Sargeant ‘Sarge’ Reynolds’ executive secretary,” explained Howell, who also spent her career working with leadership at Reynolds Metals Company. “He thought the world of her. If you gave her a job, she would leave no stone unturned to get it done and to do it perfectly.” Beith worked with Reynolds throughout his political career, and he thought so highly of her that, even after he was diagnosed with a brain tumor and was referred to Memorial Sloan Kettering in New York for treatment, he sent her letters and even had her flown up to see him on several occasions so that he could task her with various projects, including transcribing the beautiful poetry he prolifically wrote.
Lynn Moreau, also a dear friend of Beith’s, is now the caretaker of the many letters exchanged between the two, and Reynolds’ recognition of Beith’s dedication to him is clear. He gifted her several silver keepsakes with inscriptions honoring her exceptional work, and his correspondence with her always acknowledged the critical role she played in his career, which was cut short by his passing in 1971 when he was just 34 and the newly elected Lieutenant Governor of Virginia. Beith’s archive from that time also contains newspaper clippings covering Reynolds’ death as well as the incredible actions that were taken to honor his memory, including the naming of J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College.
After Reynolds passed away, Beith continued to excel in her own career and loved watching her daughter grow into an independent, studious woman who was passionate about the outdoors and had a special penchant for collecting Steiff teddy bears. “She was such a contradiction,” laughs Howell. “She was an avid cyclist, and she was tough and loved to be outside. And then she also loved teddy bears.” Like her mom, Tesiero was a dynamic, intelligent woman who was determined to have the life she wanted. She enjoyed traveling and had a passion for learning. She graduated from J. R. Tucker High School, spent undergrad at Virginia Tech, and eventually she landed a job at Smith College, where she enjoyed taking courses.
Mother and daughter were close and spoke frequently on the phone, which is how, in late May 1995, it became obvious to Beith that something had changed in her daughter. From their phone calls, Beith noticed Tesiero wasn’t feeling well, so she and her husband traveled to Amherst, MA, for a visit. What they found was alarming. Tesiero had lost weight, was experiencing severe headaches, was unable to eat and was almost completely bed ridden. Her parents immediately took action, and within days, Tesiero was seen by a physician. Her diminished physical state, however, coupled with problematic communication from the medical center where she was a patient, resulted in multiple testing and treatment delays, and almost a full week went by before anyone was able to offer an answer. During that time, Tesiero’s health continued to decline, and when the family finally received a diagnosis, it only added to their heartbreak. One of Tesiero’s physicians diagnosed her with depression, and she was admitted to a psychiatric ward. Beith’s meticulous records document their adamant disagreement with the diagnosis, but, desperate to have her daughter in a hospital and under the care of medical professionals, she felt there was no other path available toward an accurate diagnosis. Eventually, Tesiro’s medical team reached the same conclusion as Beith’s. Tesiero’s long-delayed CAT scan revealed a massive brain tumor. Tesiero had glioblastoma.
Beith and her husband felt it was urgent that their daughter return home to Richmond to receive treatment at MCV Hospital, and knowing that the leadership team at Reynolds Metals Company was all too familiar with facing a devastating brain tumor diagnosis, she called upon them for help. The family was soon back in Richmond courtesy of the company plane.
Upon their arrival, the MCV cancer care team and the family immediately bonded and remained close throughout Tesiero’s treatment, which included surgery and radiation, among other therapies. Beith’s appreciation for them cannot be overstated. On December 21, 1995, Beith wrote the following email to Tesiero’s clinical care team:
As the end of another year approaches, we begin to reflect on the events of the old year -- and those who played an important role in our lives come to mind. In our case, the MCV Team takes first place. You have earned the confidence we have placed in you. You are a unique group. Your immediate attention to all our matters of concern, your many kindnesses and thoughtfulness have touched our lives.
We wish you and your families a great holiday season followed by a healthy, happy new year.
Carol, Anne and Jim Tesiero
Unfortunately, Tesiero passed away in September of 1997 at the age of 45. Beith’s husband, also passed away that year just nine short months before Tesiero. In less than a year, Beith lost her husband and daughter.
But, as Howell and Moreau explained, Beith was never alone. Active in her church, Beith leaned on the community and support offered by the pastors and parishioners of Richmond’s First Baptist Church. In fact, her involvement there is what led to Howell and Moreau’s friendship. It was also where Beith met and fell in love with Rolfe Beith, whom she married. “Rolfe just adored her,” said Moreau. “At their wedding, when the pastor asked if he would take Anne as his wife, Rolfe shouted, ‘I do! I REALLY DO!’”
Despite enduring tragedy, Beith found tremendous joy in her golden years. She was 79 and Rolfe was 82 when they married, and their friends joined them in celebrating their relationship as well as all of the happiness that surrounded Beith at church and among her friends. “It’s a treasure,” said Howell as she reached for Moreau’s hand. “We can look back at the journey and see all the good things.” One of those many good things was Beith’s generosity. In the years following Tesiero’s passing, Beith began donating to brain cancer research at VCU Massey Cancer Center. A thoughtful and deliberate person who never acted without meticulously analyzing all options and possibilities, Beith reached the conclusion that supporting Massey’s research efforts was something that she must do to honor her daughter.
When her childhood farm was sold, Beith received a portion of the sale. “She always wanted to make sure she was doing the right thing,” said Moreau. In the end, she wanted to help prevent others from having to experience the same heartbreak she did, and upon her passing, she left Massey an estate gift, which helped to establish the $1M endowed Carol Tesiero Brain Tumor Research Fund.
To discuss the impact of Beith’s gift, Moreau and Howell met with the director of neuro-oncology, Mark Malkin, M.D., who, coincidentally, is the VCU School of Medicine’s William G. Reynolds, Jr. Chair in Neuro-Oncology and a member of Massey’s Developmental Therapeutics research program. William Reynolds, Jr., the cousin of Sarge, was a businessman and philanthropist who also worked at Reynolds Metals Company. He died in 2003 from a brain tumor.
While all of these connections may seem to underscore the immeasurable impact that cancer has on our communities, the philanthropic funds donated to honor those we’ve lost are beacons of hope. They are fueling innovation and research, bringing optimism and promise to patients. Leveraging the Carol Tesiero Brain Tumor Research Fund, Malkin will accelerate and advance neuro-oncology research priorities at Massey, including those for glioblastoma.
“All of us at Massey are deeply grateful for Anne’s generosity. This is the largest gift neuro-oncology has received during my tenure.” Malkin said. “Anne and Carol’s story will not be forgotten. Their memory continues through the many lives they are helping to improve and save. Their legacy will now be defined by hope, and we, and all those impacted by this gift, are grateful for their generosity and belief in our work here at Massey Cancer Center.”