Marlo Thomas' $700 million passion: Why I giveDecember 3, 2009: 11:05 AM ET
Before Mary Richards and Murphy Brown, there was Ann Marie--That Girl. I grew up in the '60s. So Marlo Thomas, who played the first independent working woman I ever saw on TV, had a major impact on me. Nearly a half-century later (yikes!), I now know Marlo personally. It's enormously gratifying to see an icon of my youth not only going strong (and looking young) but doing work that really matters.
Marlo has helped build St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, founded in Memphis in 1962 by her father, into one of the world's outstanding children's hospitals. She's been instrumental in raising $700 million a year for St. Jude. With a clever idea, the annual "Thanks and Giving" campaign, has come Marlo's tireless rallying of CEOs of big companies--including Target (TGT), CVS (CVS), Saks (SKS), FedEx (FDX), and AOL (TWX)--to support St. Jude's and kids in need. This month is primetime for "Thanks and Giving." We're honored to have Marlo explain in this Guest Post where she gets her passion. --Patricia Sellers
My father, Danny Thomas, who founded St. Jude Children's Research Hospital 47 years ago, told my siblings and me a lot of things when we were growing up. One of my favorites is this: "There are two kinds of people in the world: the givers and the takers. The takers sometimes eat better, but the givers always sleep better."
I never expected to have the passion to be crisscrossing the country speaking out on behalf of St. Jude. In fact, my father told my sister, Terre, and my brother, Tony, that the work of the hospital would not be our burden to carry after he was gone.
But how could we not carry on? We'd been living with St. Jude all our lives.
When we were kids, no one was allowed to take phone calls during dinner. But my father was allowed to break that rule if a call came in from St. Jude.
I'll never forget when he came back to the table, he'd sometimes have tears in his eyes because a little boy named David "didn't make it." Or he'd be beaming because a little girl named Amy was "going home at last."
My sister and brother and I would wonder: Who are these children? And why are they so important to our Daddy?
It wasn't until soon after my father died in 1991 that I began to understand what drove his passion for these kids and their families.
One time, I was in the medicine room at St. Jude, in the middle of an ordinary day. People were bustling about, and suddenly a little six-year-old boy leapt up onto his chair, ecstatic.
"Mommy!" he screamed out, "I don't have cancer anymore!"
There was a moment of silence. And then every one of us in that room--doctors, nurses, other patients and their families--all of us just started to cry.
When you look into the faces of these children, you see the face of humanity. You see courage and compassion and incredible strength.
You see a capacity for joy in the face of adversity that is simply astounding. You see the potential that is in all of us.
So, even though my dad relieved me of the burden to continue his work for the hospital, I can't resist. And it's hardly a burden.
In 2004, Terre, Tony and I decided to launch the "Thanks and Giving" campaign, in which holiday shoppers everywhere can "give thanks for the healthy children in their life, and give to those who are not."
"Thanks and Giving" is now an annual campaign. Its goal is to raise not just funds for children stricken with catastrophic diseases, but also awareness. We want parents everywhere to know that St. Jude remains a beacon of hope for families in their darkest hour.
Everywhere you look this month, whether you're at your local mall or watching movie trailers in your neighborhood multiplex, you'll see the beautiful kids of St. Jude, along with me and some of our very famous friends, like Jennifer Aniston, Robin Williams, Antonio Banderas and NFL great Reggie Bush.
Our retail partners--and we have 50 of them!--will ask you if you would like to donate a dollar or more to your purchase for the kids of St. Jude. I've been incredibly touched by the millions of people who have said yes. I'm hoping you'll say yes too.
Marlo Thomas is the National Outreach Director for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. An award-winning actress, author and activist, she's been honored with four Emmy Awards, the Peabody, a Golden Globe, a Grammy and has been inducted into the Broadcasting Hall of Fame. She is currently starring in George is Dead, a comedy written and directed by Elaine May, in Tucson and Phoenix at the Arizona Theatre Company.