Dr. Agnes Varis -- dubbed "Saint Agnes" by the Jazz Foundation of America (JFA) and now hailed as an "A Team" activist, advocate, altruist, aider and abettor of jazz by the JJA -- is recognized as a pioneer and leader in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as a major philanthropist supporting musical causes.
As president and founder of Agvar Chemicals Inc., and as founder and president of Aegis Pharmaceuticals Inc., she has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of science’s responsibility to help solve society’s problems, and through the philosophy and products of both her companies, has increased the accessibility of life-saving pharmaceuticals for people in the United States and around the world. As a role model, mentor and activist, she has also worked to break down barriers for women in business and in politics, having, for instance underwritten a women’s campaign school run by the Eleanor Roosevelt Legacy Committee to train and encourage women running for elected office in New York State. She is also a Trustee of Tufts University and member of the Board of Overseers at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. In New York City, Dr. Varis has sponsored children’s programs at Lincoln Center, spearheaded a citywide public service campaign in conjunction with Bide-A-Wee animal shelters and been active in Democratic political campaigns. In 2004 she donated the Agnes Varis Performance Stage and the Rose Hall Infrared Listening System at Jazz at Lincoln Center. From 2005 to 2007, she established the Metropolitan Opera’s annual Beverly Sills Artist Award of up to $50,000; donated 200 nightly orchestra seat tickets for their $20 Rush Ticket Program; and funded the Metropolitan Opera Open House and free lunch program.
But it is for her contributions to the world of jazz that the JJA honors her. Through her generosity and commitment in response to Hurricane Katrina, the Jazz Foundation was able to establish in 2006 the Agnes Varis/Musicians in the Schools Program, first reaching out to displaced New Orleans musicians and subsequently employing more than 1000 musicians in eight states, including some 120 elderly jazz and blues musicians performing free concerts in New York City public schools, hospitals and nursing homes.
A warm presence at JFA events including the Great Night in Harlem and Jazz Loft fundraising concerts, Dr. Varis has recently joined the Board of the Jazz Foundation, which includes previously inducted "A Team" members R. Jarrett Lilien, Dr. Frank Forte of Englewood Hospital and Dr. Billy Taylor, besides JFA executive director Wendy Oxenhorn and NEA Jazz Master, JJA member and jazz journalist-author. Nat Hentoff. The JJA has also honored the JFA-related work of Englewood Hospital senior administrators, JFA-associated medics, JFA staffers, advisers Arthur H. Barnes and Phoebe Jacobs and the JFA's late founder, Herb Storfer. The JJA is proud to celebrate Dr. Agnes Varis for her support, encouragement and faith in the efficacy of jazz elders communicating to the youngest and most needy of audiences, andfor her insight into how best to address the needs of musicians in adverse circumstances. -- Joseph Petrucelli