Shelby Modell — the Big Apple philanthropist and “matriarch” of what was once the largest family owned sporting goods company in the US — died peacefully at her home in Manhattan, relatives said Friday. She was 98.
The Brooklyn-bred wife of William “Bill” Modell, the late chairman of the Modell’s Sporting Goods empire, raised millions of dollars to research Crohn’s disease and colitis and championed causes ranging from mental health to education and the arts.
“She was one in a million. There was nothing that could stand in her way,” her son Mitch Modell told The Post. “She was just a force of nature.”
Shelby Modell passed away Thursday after she was diagnosed with COVID-19, though it was unclear if the virus caused her death, he said.
For decades, Shelby Modell was a “nurturing” force within the now-shuttered company, where she served as vice president of public affairs — and a political powerhouse behind the scenes.
In 1977, former President Jimmy Carter appointed her to the negotiating committee of the US Panama Canal Treaty.
Two years later, Big Apple Mayor Abe Beame appointed her as a commissioner on the New York City Youth Board. Gov. Mario Cuomo then tapped her for the New York State Council of the Arts in 1987.
Shelby met her husband while vacationing at the Glenmere Mansion upstate, where she fell in a lake and nearly drowned, her family said in a statement. William jumped in to rescue her, sparking a romance that led to a 59-year marriage.
She graduated from Brooklyn College and went on to get her masters from Columbia University before throwing herself into philanthropy.
Shelby was the national co-founder of the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America, which she launched after her son, Michael, was diagnosed with the disease in his teens.
After he died in 2011 due to long-term complications from the disease, she made it her life’s mission to raise money for research.
“It was the most incredible thing. I’d walk into a restaurant, and someone would come up to me and say, ‘Please thank your mom, she saved my husband’s life,’” Mitch Modell said.
In her children, she instilled the value of gratitude.
“Everybody has issues. … But she would always say, ‘What are you grateful for?’ ” Mitch said.
She was also a founding member of the American Digestive Disease Society and the Jeffrey Modell Foundation for Immunological Research.
In addition, Modell helped launch “Gilda’s Club,” a community organization for people with cancer.
She was also a founder of Hewlett House, a breast-cancer resource center, and contributed to other charities.
Shelby Modell also served on the prestigious National Health Council of Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center and was responsible for raising $150 million to build its new Psychiatric Institute.