GREENWICH, Conn. -- Football legend Frank Gifford touched many lives, including a Greenwich family he and his wife Kathie Lee befriended and helped with their nonprofit, dedicated to fighting their daughter's deadly and rare affliction.
The Giffords are big supporters of the Dana’s Angels Research Trust, which was co-founded by Phil Marella and his wife, Andrea.
Phil Marella said he was shocked to hear the news of Frank Gifford's death on Sunday at the age of 84, especially after seeing him just a few weeks ago at Trinity Church in Greenwich.
“Frank looked great, very chipper. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘How are you doing?’ “ Marella said Monday of the former National Football League and sports broadcasting star. Gifford died at his Greenwich home of natural causes.
The Marellas first met the Giffords 10 years ago when Frank reached out to them to support DART, Marella said.
In 2005, Gifford saw a poster for a DART event in a Greenwich Avenue store on a Friday and left his telephone number with a store employee asking for someone to call him, Marella said.
“Frank is the one that initially reached out. He was just warm and genuine,” Phil Marella said, adding that the Giffords were fully committed to the work of DART by that next Monday morning.
“Frank and Kathie Lee were just incredibly important people to our family and our cause,” he said. “They helped elevate everything.”
DART funds medical research, education, and medical or hospital care for the treatment or cure of Niemann-Pick Type C disease and other similar genetic disorders. They created the nonprofit after their daughter, Dana, was diagnosed with the disorder when she was 8. She died two years ago at the age of 19.
Marella said the Giffords emceed many of the DART events, including the giant annual gala held in Stamford each spring, and he said they always struck the right tone.
“There was a certain gravitas that came with having them as emcees at our events. They had the perfect blend of humor and compassion,” he said. “There has to be a certain entertainment value, but there is a fine line not to be crossed because you are telling about a very serious situation. Frank and Kathie Lee knew how to strike that balance.”
When the couple’s daughter, Dana, died two years ago, the Giffords were very comforting to them, Marella said.
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