The Man Who Gave Masonicare its Name
By Adam Raider
Remembered as a gentle, gracious man with a warm smile, Matthew Campione, MD (1925-2006) was also a beloved surgeon, generous donor to The Masonic Charity Foundation of Connecticut, and longtime board member dedicated to the residents and patients of Masonicare Health Center.
Matt's wife of 50 years, Lee Campione, knows that her late husband would take great pleasure in seeing how our organization has grown over the last decade.
A Canadian by birth, Lee grew up in an English-speaking part of the predominantly French-speaking province of Quebec. After college, she took a year to travel Europe. That's where she met Matt, at the time attending medical school in Lausanne, Switzerland. They married in 1956, but not before Lee's father voiced some concerns about the couple's cultural differences.
"When he found out that Matt was an Italian Catholic from Brooklyn," Lee said, "he panicked. But later, my father would say, 'Lee has married the most wonderful husband that a woman could ever wish for.' Matt won him over."
After Matt completed his residency in New York City, the Campiones hopped in their car and headed north to Connecticut – Connecticut being just a bit closer to Lee's family in Canada – to find a hospital in need of a surgeon. A short time later, Matt started his own surgical practice in Waterbury.
In 1966, the Campiones moved to Meriden so that Matt could become a founding partner of CBS Surgical Group (CBS standing for Campione, Badner and St. James). CBS joined the consulting staff of what was then known as the Masonic Home and Hospital in Wallingford. Matt saw the way that staff treated the residents in their care, and it had a profound impact on him.
"Matt came home from work one day," Lee recalled, "and said, 'I want to become a Mason. I'm on the staff of the best home and hospital I've ever seen in my life and I want to be able to live there one day.' At that time, it was not yet open to non-Masons. Matt, from the very beginning, was incredibly impressed with the quality of healthcare at that facility. He'd been to a lot of nursing homes, but he'd never seen anything like the Masonic Home and Hospital. It really wowed him."
Masonicare at Ashlar Village resident and fellow Foundation Benefactor Carleton Erickson got to know Matt well from their time serving together on the Masonicare Board of Trustees. For a portion of Erickson's 17-year turn as Chairman, Matt was Vice Chairman.
"Matt was fairly quiet," Erickson said, "but when he spoke, you listened. He was a brilliant person and I was very comfortable having a person of such quality sitting with us on our board. Coming from a medical background, he could offer insights into things that other board members couldn't."
Retiring from CBS Surgical in 1990, Matt was grateful to be able to continue his relationship with Masonicare as a trustee. It was an exciting time for the organization, and Matt – a 1992 recipient of the Luke Lockwood Medal for outstanding service to Masonicare – relished having more time and energy to devote to this new chapter of his career in healthcare. In fact, Matt is credited with coming up with the name "Masonicare."
"It's a simple story, really," Erickson said. "Our organization was growing and expanding and we needed to come up with a new name. Our executive committee was sitting around one night discussing ideas. We wanted to convey that we had Masonic ties and that were a caring organization, but all the names we came up with were too complicated. Then Matt says, 'Why don't we just call it Masonicare?' We kicked it around a bit, played with it, and came to realize that it represented everything we're doing."
And if there would be no Masonicare without Matt Campione – at least, not by the name we know it today – there would surely be no Masonicare if not for the generosity of our many donors. Benefactors of The Masonic Charity Foundation want to know that the mission of Masonicare will endure well beyond their lifetimes. The Campiones became Benefactors in 1973 with an outright major gift.
"Matt and I inherited some money," Lee explained. "We knew we wanted to give it away, and we focused on four areas: healthcare, education, welfare and the arts. In considering who should receive the healthcare portion, Matt immediately said he wanted it to go to Masonicare. We were glad to make that initial gift, and I continue to give to the Annual Appeal."
Lee plans to move to Masonicare in the event that she can no longer care for herself, or if maintaining her own home becomes too difficult.
"There are fine retirement communities popping up all the time," she said, "and Connecticut has quite a few of them. But I truly feel, as Matt did then, that I've never seen a better one than Masonicare. Ever. It would never have entered my mind to go anywhere else."