Heathcare PR and comms pioneer Marilyn Lee Castaldi dies at 71

In a career that spanned more than 30 years, Castaldi served in exec roles at Burson-Marsteller, FleishmanHillard, and Hill+Knowlton Strategies.

Marilyn Lee Castaldi
Marilyn Lee Castaldi

NEW YORK: Marilyn Lee Castaldi, a respected figure in the field of healthcare PR and comms, has passed away after battling ovarian cancer.

She died at White Plains Hospital in New York last Thursday.

Between 1984 and 1992, Castaldi rose through the ranks at Burson-Marsteller to become EVP and MD, heading the firm’s New York healthcare practice.

Harold Burson, founding chairman of Burson-Marsteller, called Castaldi "one of the pioneers in the movement to expand the knowledge of pharmaceutical treatments and healthcare practices to a broader audience," in a statement provided by Theresa Dolge, Castaldi’s second cousin.

Castaldi eventually left Burson for FleishmanHillard, where she established the firm’s healthcare practice. Under her leadership, FleishmanHillard’s practice grew to become an industry juggernaut.

In interviews from 2002 with PRWeek, Castaldi outlined her vision for the role PR should play. At a time when the industry was under a microscope, she pushed for a more proactive PR approach from corporations.

"Fifteen years ago, pharmaceutical companies were only concerned about brand marketing," she said at the time. "But now we are in the most severe public affairs situation ever. These companies need to show that they are doing something to give back, completely separate from what they are doing with their individual drugs."

Besides sharing her knowledge with colleagues, Castaldi also mentored Dolge, who is chief media relations officer at Tonic Life Communications, a comms shop focused on serving the healthcare industry.

"She’s the only reason I’m in this industry," Dolge told PRWeek. She explained that Castaldi encouraged her to intern at FleishmanHillard when she was in college.

Dolge described Castaldi as a sharp-tongued woman with a strong personality and one of the most brilliant people she ever met.

"She was my absolute best advocate and critic all rolled into one," she added.

In 2002, Castaldi moved onto a new position at Hill+Knowlton Strategies as GM of the firm’s New York office.

After working as an independent consultant, and as comms lead at Columbia University Medical Center and NYU Langone Medical Center, Castaldi transitioned back into the agency world. Ogilvy shop Feinstein Kean Healthcare hired her as EVP of its healthcare practice in 2011.

"She often said her children were the people that worked for her at her PR agencies," Dolge said. "She was very involved in my daughter’s life and my son’s life."

In 2015, Castaldi served as the interim VP, public affairs and marketing for NewYork-Presbyterian/Queens, then as a consultant and writer, according to her LinkedIn profile.

"I found it amazing that at the age where most people would move on, she said, ‘Nope, I’ll continue working.’ And [she was] still as smart as ever," Dolge added. "It’s depressing to know I can’t call her anymore."

Castaldi is survived by her brother Bob Castaldi, his wife Anna Paglione, nieces, nephews, cousins, her partner Philip Hostetter, and friends. Her husband, Howard Singer, died in 2013; they were married for 33 years.

Visitation will be held January 12 at 7 p.m. at Graham Funeral Home in Rye, New York. A memorial service will be held January 13 at 10 a.m. at the Church of the Resurrection in Rye, New York.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks for contributions to be made to The Eye Bank, for which she served as a board member and president.

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