There are not many things as inspiring as the life and achievements of one, Danny Thomas.
No, I had never heard of him either but I am glad that I have now. I am pleased that I can share his story briefly on our site and in particular because Danny and I share some parallels
Certainly, his legacy is remarkable. His name should be heralded and held up with other great American icons who we are already familiar with.
Just as an aside and for some context… In conceiving The Brothers Trust – we were most keen to help charities that struggle to be heard and accordingly to raise funds and so this would normally preclude St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital, an internationally renowned institution and in fact, America’s largest healthcare charity.
Hardly struggling for publicity then but I am glad that we can make such an exception and
if I can explain why…
This pioneering hospital was founded by a struggling comedian (the parallels I mentioned earlier). His name was Danny Thomas. He was expecting his first child and went to mass in Detroit to pray for help with the hospital bills ahead and I imagine also with becoming a father.
Danny prayed to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes (more parallels) and the very next day, he was cast in a play that paid him ten times the amount of money than the $7 he had placed in the collection box.
The years went by. Danny kept gigging, having more children and he kept praying to St.Jude, promising his celestial muse “help me find my way in life, and I will build you a shrine.
Danny’s career flourished as he became a national and international star (here, the parallels end) and attributing his success to St.Jude, Danny never forgot his promise. And for this we should all be thankful.
In the 1950’s, Danny was of sufficient stature and means to go about making good; to found a children’s hospital where no child is denied treatment based on race, religion or a family’s ability to pay; a noble goal and even more prescient for our modern age.
Based in Memphis, Danny and his wife, Rose Marie set about their task with gusto, putting on benefit shows and calling on major show-biz stars and local businessmen and philanthropists to build the hospital – but once built, Danny faced the even greater challenge of keeping the facility funded and afloat…
To solve this problem, Danny, of Lebanese descent, turned to his fellow Americans of Arabic-speaking heritage. Believing deeply that these Americans should, as a group, thank the United States for the gifts of freedom given their parents, Danny also felt the support of St. Jude would be a noble way of honoring his immigrant forefathers who had come to America.
In 1957, 100 representatives of the Arab-American community met in Chicago to form ALSAC® with a sole purpose of raising funds for the support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Since that time, with national headquarters in Memphis and regional offices throughout the United States, ALSAC has assumed full responsibility for all the hospital’s fundraising efforts, raising hundreds of millions annually through benefits and solicitation drives among Americans of all ethnic, religious and racial backgrounds.
Saint Jude can rightly be proud of the young expectant father who prayed to him that day in a Detroit Church because the hospital that bears his name, has invented treatments that have helped to push the overall childhood cancer survival rate from 20% to more than 80% since the hospital opened more than 50 years ago. What a remarkable feat.
There are many comedians and actors much better known than Danny Thomas but how many of them leave a greater legacy? In the United States and the world over, families with critically ill children place their trust and hopes in the cures that are available because of the energies and noble efforts of a truly great man, Danny Thomas.
Like I say, his name deserves to be known more broadly because all Americans and indeed us all, owe him a debt of gratitude and should take inspiration from his life and how he applied the fruits of his success.
Danny lived to see his little hospital become an international beacon of hope for the catastrophically ill children of the world. He died on February 6, 1991 and was buried in the grounds of his hospital where he was joined by his wife when she passed on July 12, 2000 and today, their three children carry on their parents’ great and noble work.
And as for me…
…well, I realise now that all this time, I have been praying to the wrong Saint... but from here-on-in, rest assured that St. Jude has yet another ‘hopeless cause of a comedian’ making all sorts of promises to him…