Eileen Garbutt

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The Lasting Legacy of a Community Icon

IN EARLY MAY, when Eileen Garbutt announced her retirement from Jewish Federation & Family Services (JFFS) after decades with the organization, the collective sentimental sigh could be felt from Fullerton to Lake Forest. Here was a woman who had helped to nurture and shape our community for decades, moving on to enjoy some well-deserved rest and relaxation with friends and family. It marked the end of a really great chapter in the book that is our community.

Suffice it to say, the imprint Garbutt has left on Jewish Orange County has been significant. When she joined JFFS as a professional 17 years ago, she had already served many years as a lay leader, including two terms as President of Women’s Philanthropy. In fact, she was recognized by our community as the 2012 Woman of the Year at Women’s Voices, Women’s Philanthropy’s signature event and the largest annual daytime gathering of Jewish women in Orange County. Woman of the Year acknowledges a woman’s dedication to Jewish communal service, and Garbutt has many accomplishments of note to that end.

Transitioning to a staff position as Director of Women’s Philanthropy in 1999, Garbutt leveraged her deep relationships within the community to grow the network of women dedicated to philanthropy and volunteerism for Orange County and Israel. Under her leadership and in partnership with an extraordinary board, Women’s Philanthropy of JFFS developed Reading Partners, a volunteer program that works to increase English literacy for K-3rd graders in academically and socio-economically challenged schools in Orange County. (Note: Reading Partners is now being run by Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot.) Women’s Philanthropy also launched Mitzvah Mavens, a committee that partakes in a variety of volunteer projects throughout the county and whose Knitting Circle makes baby blankets for Children’s Hospital of Orange County (CHOC) and Binky Patrol, an organization dedicating to making blankets for abused and impoverished children and babies.

Debbie Margolis, former President of Women’s Philanthropy and former Chair of the Board for JFFS, recently said, “Most of us feel Eileen is Women’s Philanthropy. We only know Eileen.” Her sentiments echo those of so many in the community for whom Women’s Philanthropy and Eileen Garbutt are truly synonymous.

Margolis continued, “Eileen was able to cultivate incredible leadership that created the model we have now that is so incredibly successful. Women want to be on the Women’s Philanthropy board – and women are proud of their Jewish philanthropy.”

Ann Miller, a former President of Women’s Philanthropy, joined Margolis in co-chairing a tribute luncheon for Garbutt in mid-August. Over a hundred women gathered to celebrate the extraordinary volunteer and professional legacy of Garbutt at Big Canyon Country Club. Miller was understandably emotional in recalling her work with Garbutt to strengthen our community: “I have so many wonderful memories with Eileen, a lot of them during my 2-year presidency from 2010-2012. But I think the most memorable times have been traveling together and sharing the Lion of Judah conferences. I am tremendously grateful for her mentoring, for bringing me on board to Women’s Philanthropy, for the relationship and friendship we have developed over the years, and for her extraordinary ability to quietly get it all done. She has given so much of herself back to this community – and she’s done it with compassion, grace, faith, gratitude, strength, and love.”

Garbutt too has been reflective about her time and commitment to our community: “I’m really proud of the leadership that has been nurtured through Women’s Philanthropy and I feel a huge sense of pride in what we have achieved together. The accomplishments and the growth are extremely gratifying to see.”

The enduring commitment of the women that Garbutt cultivated as leaders will truly be her most lasting legacy because there is a bright future ahead with strong women at the helm. “I worked hard to become involved in this community and to build it,” Garbutt said. “But Jewish Orange County has grown significantly since I moved here in 1986. There are more opportunities for involvement now. If you reach out, the rewards are great.”

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