Irene Pollin, former co-owner of Caps, Wizards, Mystics, dies at 96

Irene Pollin, widow of former Caps and Wizards owner Abe Pollin, sits for a portrait at her home in Bethesda, Maryland, on Wednesday, June 22, 2016. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Irene Pollin, who together with her husband, Abe Pollin, owned the Washington Capitals, Wizards and Mystics, and helped revitalize downtown D.C. with the construction of Capital One Arena, died Tuesday at age 96 at her home in Amherst, Massachusetts.

Irene Pollin was an active partner in her husband’s sports business. Abe Pollin bought the Chicago Zephyrs NBA team in 1963, moved them to Baltimore and renamed them the Bullets. He then built the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, and moved the team there in 1973.

The Pollins were the NBA’s longest-tenured owners when they sold the Wizards to Ted Leonsis in 2010.

“Much like her husband, Abe Pollin, she was an icon in the sports world and beloved throughout the Greater Washington communities who have benefited from her generosity over the course of her lifetime,” Leonsis, who is also Monumental Sports and Entertainment chairman and CEO, said. “Irene will always be remembered and truly missed.”

In 1974, she was active in the founding of the NHL’s Washington Capitals, and later recruited marketing executive Lew Strudler to lead a Save the Caps campaign in 1982. The team stayed, and in 2018 won the Stanley Cup.

In 1997, the Pollins’ dream of building an arena in downtown D.C. was realized with the opening of what was then called the MCI Center. Two years later, Irene Pollin was instrumental in the addition of the WNBA’s Washington Mystics to the family’s sports empire.

“Mrs. Pollin knew me from my days working for the National Mental Health Association in 1978,” Strudler said Wednesday. “She was always a part of the Washington Sports Organization. She was an author, a widely respected public health advocate, and an avid sports fan who was so proud of having played a major role in bringing the Washington Bullets to Landover, then seeing the Capital Centre built, and finally helping get the Washington Capitals franchise awarded to D.C. in 1974.”

Irene Pollin had her own career as a psychotherapist; she had a master of social work degree from Catholic University and an honorary doctor of humanities degree from Howard University.

She created the first medical crisis counseling center developed to treat patients and families coping with chronic illness, and developed centers at the Washington Hospital Center and more facilities in surrounding communities.

In 2000, she founded Sister to Sister: The Women’s Heart Health Foundation, the nation’s first organization dedicated to women’s heart disease prevention and education, which she led for 14 years.

Heart disease prevention continued to be her passion: Johns Hopkins University was the beneficiary of a major gift from Irene Pollin to the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins. Her donation established the Kenneth Jay Pollin Professorship in Cardiology and launched pivotal research on heart disease prevention.

She is predeceased by her husband, Abe Pollin, who died in 2009, and her children, Linda Joy and Kenneth Jay. She is survived by her sons, Robert and James, and daughter-in-law Sigrid, as well as two grandchildren (Hannah and Emma), great granddaughters (Ruth, Leah and Laila), and several nieces and nephews.

“She loved calling all the employees and athletes extended members of her family,” Strudler said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Dave Johnson

Dave Johnson is Senior Sports Director and morning sports anchor. He first arrived at WTOP in 1989, left in 1992 and returned in 1995. He is a three-time winner of the A.I.R. award as best radio sportscaster in D.C. In 2008 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for best writing for sports commentaries.

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