Rita Golding leaves a legacy to support lymphoma research

Rita Golding
Rita Golding

Rita Golding loves Arizona Cancer Center Hematology/Oncology Chief Thomas Miller, MD, like family. It’s likely because Dr. Miller and his wife, rheumatologist Meg Miller, MD, have always treated Rita and her late husband, Mel, like family for more than 27 years.

The Millers treated Mel for lymphoma and rheumatoid arthritis, which likely resulted from his lymphoma. Rita remembers Mel’s diagnosis came over a holiday, but a friend of a friend knew the late Arizona Cancer Center Director Sydney Salmon, MD, and he told them Dr. Miller was the person they needed to see. “I think it’s important to go to a doctor who specializes in one type of cancer. It’s not that other doctors aren’t good, but one person can’t know everything,” says Rita.

Melville Golding was born into a prominent New York society family in 1920 with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. His family owned the Essex House Hotel, Sterling National Bank, and many real estate holdings. In his early 40s, Mel stepped away from being one of Manhattan’s socialites, but he never stopped giving like one to charitable causes.

Mel and Rita came from different worlds. Unlike Mel, her father died when she was young and her mother struggled to raise three young children on her own. “Every little girl dreams of being Cinderella. Mel and I really had that kind of fairy tale relationship,” says Rita with a smile and a glimmer in her eye. “He was the love of my life for 45 years. I didn’t just love him for what he did for me, but also what he did to help other people.”

After her older siblings went to college, there wasn’t much money left so Rita worked through college as a John Robert Powers model. Tired of modeling after college, she went to interview at a textile company that needed someone to work in its showroom doing photography. “It was a young firm, with young people and a young boss who was divorced. I didn’t want the job, but I got it.” The young boss was Mel, whom she married two years later.

“My husband came from a family of givers,” says Rita. Mel’s grandparents founded Camp Dora Golding for youth. Rita says she was thankful she could help her mother-in-law, Ruth Golding, hold fundraising events at the Essex House. “I’ve always believed the more you give, the more you get back,” Rita says.

Rita recalls that Mel not only had a great sense of humor, he also never gave you the feeling that he felt he was superior to any one else. After his diagnosis, Mel and Rita started giving what would amount to many significant anonymous gifts to the Arizona Cancer Center. “We both felt the same way – it’s not important to have our name on something – but it is important if we can save one person. That is all that matters,” says Rita. “Building buildings is fine – that’s important, but without research people will die.”