West Virginia University remembers Betty Puskar

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

MORGANTOWN, W.VA. – Betty J. Puskar wanted to be remembered as someone who facilitated breast cancer care and for making breast cancer something that people talked about. She also wanted to be known as someone who helped people.

Betty J. Puskar
Betty J. Puskar

Those who crossed paths with Puskar can attest to that legacy of kindness, compassion, empathy for others, selflessness, and fierce advocacy for those with breast cancer.

A long-time supporter of West Virginia University and WVU Medicine, Puskar died at the age of 80 on Sunday, June 14, at her home in Morgantown.

 “West Virginia University has lost a great friend in Betty Puskar, but her legacy will live on in the lives she has helped save or prolong through her advocacy and support of women’s health,” WVU President Gordon Gee said. “The Betty Puskar Breast Care Center is but one result of her philanthropy and commitment to the betterment of our community. West Virginia University and West Virginia will always be grateful for her lively and generous spirit.”

“Betty Puskar was a generational leader for WVU, the WVU Cancer Institute, and the state of West Virginia,” Clay Marsh, M.D., vice president and executive dean for WVU Health Sciences, said. “Betty showed all of us the power of grace, love, caring, and service to others in promoting healing. She helped countless numbers of patients and inspired everyone in the power of selfless service to others.”

Diagnosed with breast cancer in 1985, Puskar sought treatment in Houston, Texas. She fought through the disease and was determined to build a breast care treatment facility in Morgantown so that others would not have to leave home to get exceptional care. In 1994, she contributed the initial donation to establish the Betty Puskar Breast Care Center. Part of the WVU Cancer Institute, the Center provides comprehensive, all-encompassing breast care for women in West Virginia and the surrounding region.

“Betty Puskar will always be a hero to the women of West Virginia,” Hannah Hazard-Jenkins, M.D., interim director of the WVU Cancer Institute, said. “There aren’t many she has not touched whether directly at the breast center she founded, championed, and supported for all those years or indirectly through her advocacy for women’s access to high quality breast cancer screening and treatment. For me, she embodies what survivorship is – living life to the fullest, embracing what was dealt to her, and maximizing her ability to influence others to improve the healthcare for West Virginians. The WVU Cancer Institute lost an ally and most importantly, a friend. We will miss her tremendously and vow to honor her legacy as we advocate for and deliver cutting-edge cancer care across West Virginia.” 

Often referred to as the “First Lady of Morgantown," Puskar was unquestionably West Virginia’s poster figure for the war on cancer. She was born in a rural area outside Covington, Virginia, the third of eight brothers and sisters. She completed Covington Business College and soon after met Mike Puskar. The couple was married and had a daughter, Johanna. She tirelessly supported her former husband’s efforts to create an independent drug company, which ultimately gave rise to the generic pharmaceutical industry. This led to the founding of the company known today as Mylan Pharmaceuticals, Inc.

“Betty Puskar was a fierce advocate for breast cancer patients in West Virginia and a loyal friend to WVU Medicine,” Albert L. Wright, Jr., president and CEO of the West Virginia University Health System said. “Not only did she support the WVU Cancer Institute financially and with her time, she also supported several other programs, including WVU Medicine Children’s. We will miss her personality, her generosity, and, most importantly, her friendship. There will never be another person like Betty Puskar. It was a pleasure to have known her.”

Puskar served on the Mary Babb Randolph Cancer Center Board of Advisors and was a charter member of the Foundation’s Woodburn Circle Society. She founded the Betty Puskar Futures LPGA Golf Tournament that was held for 17 years at the Pines Country Club and its related fashion show that was a much-anticipated community event for 15 years. She frequently made herself available to speak, counsel, and give encouragement to those suffering from cancer, especially terminal patients. Puskar is also the proud grandmother of Kyle, who attended WVU’s College of Business and Economics.

“Betty was a force of nature; her personality would light up a room as soon as she walked in – yet she did it with such grace, humility, and in her own unique way,” Cindi Roth, president and CEO of the WVU Foundation, said. “Betty defined how to ‘pay it forward’ in helping West Virginians along her way, and her impact will be palpable for generations to come. The ‘light’ of Betty Puskar has not gone out; it now lives in the life of her grandson, Kyle, who, like Betty, continues to shine and carry the name proudly, gently, and with the honor that it holds.”

For more information: Garrett Cullen, WVU Foundation, 304-284-4056