Posted June 8, 2015
Danny Thomas, FedEx St. Jude
Classic, and Lovingkindness
By Arelya J. Mitchell, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief
The Mid-South Tribune and the Black Information Highway
At this time of year, two giants meld their signatory names to present what has become a PGA tradition on a different level, charity. We’re talking about the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind which takes place June 8-14 in Memphis. Those two giants are FedEx and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and this event is to benefit the ongoing and much needed research of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital which focuses on the area of childhood cancer. Over the years St. Jude has produced many breakthroughs and has produced gifted and compassionate researchers who have gone on to receive noted accolades and a Nobel Prize in their respective fields.
But none of this would be happening had it not been for a promise the late comedian/actor Danny Thomas made to God when he was at his lowest point and made the simplistic act of going to a church, placing his last seven dollars in an offering, and boldly asking God for a break in his career. He sought the help of St. Jude, considered the saint of lost causes and desperation. The account goes that a week later, Thomas got that big break in his career and his offer of seven dollars grew ten-fold. As Thomas began to accumulate wealth and to see his dream of being successful in Hollywood come to fruition, he never forgot his promise. Of course in today’s world, such a historical account might sound too good to be true, but to those who are desperate and have hit rock bottom, there is nothing false about it. Thomas knew firsthand what it was to be hungry, to struggle, to hope and to dream.
St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital serves as a witness to Thomas’ faith.
I am sure many have heard the story but what can be added to Thomas’ story is an architect named Paul Revere Williams**—yes, the irony of a ‘Paul Revere’ coming to the rescue to help Thomas see his dream— is fortuitous. Add to Paul Revere Williams the concept of a Five-Point Star and miraculous pieces begin to fit a puzzling timeframe.
This timeframe is in the early 1960’s when Jim Crow ruled and when poverty and race were determinants in how much and what health care a child would receive. If any.
Paul Revere Williams was African American.
Paul Revere Williams, one of the few Black architects in the nation in the 1950’s and 1960’s, had designed the Thomas house in California. Williams’ parents Chester Stanley Williams, Sr. and Lila A. Williams were Memphians who moved to California for a better life. But what is interesting about the Williams and Thomas connection is that Thomas had envisioned a St. Jude headquarters with a five-point star layout and Williams presented him with a five-point star design when neither had discussed it with the other. Williams donated his designs to Thomas.
Thomas founded St. Jude in 1962. A year later another rebel with a dream by the name of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech that was more controversial than heralded at the time. King dared to deliver what has now become an iconic declaration to erase racism and poverty.
In 1962, Thomas made a similar declaration by establishing a children’s hospital based on need and hope. The main centerpiece of St. Jude was founded on Thomas’ belief that all children regardless of race, color, creed or economic status should be treated. This was unprecedented—yes, even rebellious— as far as race was concerned because it was in a timeframe when hospitals were segregated; when doctors’ offices had “white only” and “black only” signs in the waiting room; when hope was a four-letter word stunted in color and deprivation.
Thomas could have followed the rules and not have had Williams as part of a ‘dream team’ which brought St. Jude into being. Cancer had a sign hung on it; Thomas removed the sign, knowing that all human cells had no color, no race or no creed.
Danny Thomas was a rebel with a dream.
Even in this 21st Century ‘timeframe’, Paul Revere Williams has somewhat become lost as one of the pioneers in Thomas’ vision; and Thomas himself in spite of the numerous St. Jude telethons and events such as the PGA FedEx St. Jude Classic has been lost as an individual who dared to make a socio-economic statement which impacted this nation’s history. Does this sound exaggerated? As giving this man too much credit? As placing him in the ranks of a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and those who dared to break down the barriers of Jim Crow? The fact—and let me repeat—the fact that he opened this hospital’s wings to all children in this time became, too, a plank in the civil rights struggle.
Those ‘few’ visionaries who chose to boldly step with Thomas such as Paul Revere Williams, Dr. Lemuel Diggs, and automobile dealer Anthony Abraham should be remembered as socio-economic leaders in the health field in a time which did not lend itself fully to the spirit of the Hippocratic Oath.
In an era where people are lauded for being famous and little else, Thomas remains an enigma in the realm of a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., a Mother Teresa , a Bishop Desmond Tutu, a Nelson Mandela, a Mrs. Rosa Parks, an Albert Schweitzer. Why are such people so moved to do what they do? Yes, there are others in this realm who were moved to sacrifice, scrape and scratch out miracles when they should have long given up. Yet, in this realm there are still far too few. Does this sound mushy?
In the Bible there is a word which has always fascinated me. That word is ‘lovingkindness,’ and this is what Thomas exuded when he founded a hospital to treat babies and children and didn’t give a damn about who they were, where they came from, what color they were, what religion they were, what nationality they were, or if they had a penny in the bank to pay for medical care. How easily he could have reneged on his promise, but he chose not.
And if a person can empathize—get to that fine point in a symbolic five-point star where humanity meets and transcends into ‘lovingkindness’ then this is an ideal in making a great nation humane. Yes, such talk could be viewed in the realm of rose-colored idealism, but roses are beautiful, aren’t they? And what’s wrong with a little lovingkindness?
We hope you all will support the FedEx St. Jude Classic at TPC Southwind. And if you cannot come out to support it, you may get more information at www.stjudeclassic.com on how to donate to this worthwhile charity throughout the year. And to those who are unable to contribute financially, remember your prayers for this institution to continue its growth.
I am sure Danny Thomas would most certainly approve of your prayers and attest that a prayer brought him the vision of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital even in a society that thrives on the ambiguities of political correctness.
Let us continue his work with lovingkindness.
**For more on Mr. Paul Revere Williams, detour to www.paulrwilliams.org