As you would probably imagine, there’s always a lot of activity going on at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Of course, it goes without saying that the doctors and nurses at the Memphis-based facility are working feverishly to try to find cures for diseases that have afflicted their patients, from cancer to leukemia. But that’s not all that is going on at the hospital, located just a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River.
Earlier this month, St. Jude held its annual FedEx St. Jude Classic golf tournament that brought hundreds of the game’s best to the city. According to Rick Shadyac, Jr. — the chief executive officer of ALSAC, the awareness and fund-raising organization of the hospital — it was quite an emotional week for all involved, and a historic one, to boot.
“We celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Classic, as well as the 60th anniversary of ALSAC,” Shadyac told Billboard in an interview at Memphis. “We had many opportunities to spotlight our patients, and to give them the opportunity to interact with the PGA Tour pros, and their wives or partners. That was a great opportunity, whether they were putting with the pros, holding the flag, or having an airplane named after them. We also had some of them creating artwork, there was a lot of special activities. Four patients were actually able to participate in Pro-Am’s during the festivities,” he said, beaming. “To me, that was incredibly meaningful – to see four kids and two young women participating. There was another child, Ali, who had passed away,” he lamented, though added that those who attended the event felt her spirit. “Literally, on the eighteenth fairway, if you were walking up, you would see her mom’s house, and to remember while we are celebrating all these great things with the kids that are survivors, there’s still a lot of work to do.”
In addition to the golf tournament, the week also brought the annual St. Jude Jam to Memphis, which brought talent ranging from country’s Clare Dunn and Montgomery Gentry to R.E.M’s Mike Mills. Also attending the concert was song stylist Kim Carnes. A Nashville resident, Carnes said she was pleased to lend her talents to the event. “Anytime I can do something for St. Jude, it’s something I try to do,” she said. “The work that they do touches so many lives and affects so many people, how could you not want to be a part of that?” The artist behind such hits as “Bette Davis Eyes” and “Don’t Fall In Love With A Dreamer” added that cancer had touched her family before on multiple occasions, so she was honored to be a part of the Jam.
Hearing words like Carnes’ makes the work of St. Jude even more meaningful, says Shadyac. “I love hearing people say that. I believe that we have the most blessed and amazing mission on the planet. I say that because I don’t think there is anything more beautiful or more pure than to help kids, but also to help kids that have been stricken with such a catastrophic disease. To know that we are giving families the opportunity to not have to make healthcare decisions based upon how good their health insurance is or how much money they have in their bank account, to alleviate those burdens that are associated with taking care of a catastrophically-ill child, I think it’s just incredibly special, and something that people gravitate towards. I think that’s why we are successful as an organization. I think the general public loves helping kids, particularly kids that have dealt something like they have.”
The Pro-Am and the Jam are just two events of what promises to be a busy summer for St. Jude, said Shadyac. “Now, we’re moving into our Music Gives to St. Jude Kids’ Program, a campaign which is just beginning. We’re going to have the Music Gives To St. Jude Kids’ Day, which will take place on Aug. 4. It’s going to be a day that will allow bands and venues to raise funds and awareness and support for the patients and families of St. Jude.”
Shadyac said that Music Gives is an extension of the great support that the hospital has received from the country and the Latin genres. “We’ve enjoyed a long history of support from the music and entertainment industry, going back to our beginnings with Danny Thomas. He called upon his friends to help support him in his dream that no child would die in the dawn of life, that led to a tremendous history of support from the country music industry — who do an amazing amount of work for us. Now, we’ve got the involvement of Jason Thomas Gordon, who is Danny’s grandson, and also a musician. He has taken the Music Gives program, and elevated it tremendously. Now, we are taking it to rock n’ roll, which is near and dear to my heart from my generation. We’ve been able to work with rock bands, and have a great relationship with the Goo Goo Dolls, in large part to Jason. The Avett Brothers are someone else who has a unique connection to St. Jude because (band member) Bob Crawford’s daughter is a patient here, so we are truly blessed to have the support from the community. Alabama Shakes is another one that has supported us. It’s exciting, because these are new genres for us.”
St. Jude continues to be honored with visits from artists among all musical formats – including one of the biggest on the charts right now. “It’s so exciting for us right now because we are supported by Luis Fonsi, who has the number one song in the world with ‘Despacito.’ He’s been an amazing champion for the kids of St. Jude. We are blessed to have his support. He was here literally last week building things for St. Jude while having the number one song in the world. That’s the kind of support that we get from people in the music industry.”
Part of Shadyac’s job is to represent St. Jude and the patients at events such as Country Cares for St. Jude Kids, which is held each January. He says he doesn’t take one second of his time for granted. “I have the best job on the planet, but it really isn’t a job. I enjoy it so much. It’s such a rich job because of the patients, the moms and the dads of these patients, and I get to see them every day. I admire the courage that they exhibit everyday in battling this horrible disease. We have been blessed to have had a lot of successes, but at the same time, we know that our work isn’t done. There are kids that don’t make it, and those are the ones that really inspire you – to work harder.”