The 8th annual Town & Country Philanthropy Summit continued today with a wonderful conversation between Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue, moderated by Editor in Chief Stellene Volandes. This is the first time that Phil has interviewed Marlo since they first met on the Donahue show decades ago.
Please see below for highlights from the panel as well as a link to view the interview in its entirety:
Marlo on visiting St. Jude following her father’s death:
“After my father died, it was just a terrible shock to us. It was stunning because he hadn’t been sick, so it was very sudden. He was adored by us. We all loved him, and he was our funny, loving perfect daddy so it was very, very hard. We all decided that you know, we’d go to St. Jude and let them know that we were here if they needed us and so I went to St. Jude, a couple of months later. I drove up and there was a sixteen feet statue of St. Jude right at the entrance, and I started to cry because I’ve been there so many times with my dad. I pulled myself together because I didn’t want to cry in front of the parents, they have enough heartache of their own. I went inside and, in the lobby, there was this party going on. All of these little kids running around with party hats, balloons, confetti, ice cream, and cake. I said to the nurse, ‘Well whose birthday, is it?’ She said, ‘Oh it’s not a birthday party, it’s an off-chemo party.’ Well, I’ll tell you, I just gasped, to see these children celebrating one of their turns for the better. All of these moms and dads and grandparents standing around with tears in their eyes because they felt that if this child made it, maybe their beloved child would too. It was really a stunning moment for me. And then, just as I was standing there, this mom came over with a little girl about four years old, all dressed in pink. She had little pink ribbons jauntily tied around her little bald head and the mother said to her, ‘do you know who’s this lady’s daddy is?’ and the little girl shyly answered, ‘yes’ the mother said ‘who?’ She [little girl] proudly said, ‘St. Jude.’ I just fell in love with her. I fell in love with all of those kids in the off-chemo party. I fell in love with this place. And I realized for the first time, just what all of this hope and love and promise and the future of a second chance for children meant to my father. It really helped me to see myself as a part of it.”
Marlo on what she learned from her father:
“Well, what I learned from dad, really is that he had a lot of sayings, and one of them was there’s two kinds of people in the world: those who stop on an accident to see if they can help or those who just drive by. He was literally the kind that would stop and help. I remember one time, we were driving by down Sunset Blvd. we saw these boys beating up on another little boy. And my father stopped the car and jumped out. He pulled the boys apart and gave them a big talking to. I was sitting in the car, terrified, I was eight years old. He got back in the car. He brought the little boy that’ve been bullied with him. We were going to drop him off at home and as my dad started the car, he said, ‘I hate a bully.’ And I think to him, cancer in children was a bully. A bully that he wanted to defeat. The thing about my dad too is that he really was a citizen of the world, that we all are citizens of the world…He saw himself as part of the neighborhood as a part of a community wherever he was, he was a part of that community. I think that was a great lesson for my sister, my brother, and I.”
Phil Donahue on his first visit to St. Jude and how that impacted him:
“My first visit to St. Jude, I picked up a little bald-headed kid. I said, ‘What do you want to be when you grow up, big guy?’ This still makes me cry. The kid said, ‘I just don’t want to be sick anymore.’ Well, my god, I grabbed this kid. You know, for a very brief moment, I kind of felt how parents feel when they take a child to St. Jude. How scary it must be and how I didn’t want that child to see my eyes get moist. So, it’s a real learning experience at St. Jude. It changed me forever. I do wish everybody could visit the hospital. It’s a life-changing experience and when you see the parents arrive with a child. You see the real fear on their faces, terror sometimes. Then you see them leaving and they’re better. It’s like a godsent – the change they feel, and that their children feel.”
Marlo on being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and her version of the American Dream:
“One of the things that happened in my life that was really big a great deal, because of my work with St. Jude, is that I received the Medal of Freedom from President Obama. My husband and I went, and my brother came, and the head of St. Jude came. The interesting thing about it, is when you are growing up, especially as an actress, you dream of getting an Emmy or an Oscar or a Tony, but I don’t think anybody grows up dreaming about the Medal of Freedom. It just comes as a shock when you’re told you will be receiving this at the White House. And I remember I was stunned. Remember we discussed that I wasn’t going to cry? So, I’m not going to cry, but I did because at the moment President Obama was clasping the medal around my neck, I thought of my grandparents. My grandparents were immigrants who came to this country from Lebanon to find a better way of life, to raise their family and their children. And I saw them in my mind’s eye, I could see my grandparents with all their belongings and cloth bags. And here, their granddaughter just two generations later were in the White House receiving the Medal of Freedom from the President of the United States. I mean, that is the American Dream. I’m so proud of the fact that my grandparents made a life in this country.”
Marlo on how celebrity involvement has helped the foundation:
“That’s a very interesting thing because just as in our generation, we brought in Jennifer Aniston and Robin Williams and all of those wonderful people. My dad did that, that’s how he built the hospital. He used to say this hospital was built with laughter George Burns and the Bob Hope and all of the funny guys—Jerry Lewis and Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, all of the men and women that were on the night club circuit with my dad helped build St. Jude. In fact, Frank Sinatra did so many benefits that we actually have a whole wing that’s called the Frank Sinatra wing. Their generosity really built the hospital.”
Watch the full summit here.
The T&C Summit continues tomorrow with Stacy-Marie Ishmael speaking to Taraji P. Henson and Jamie Raskin, and Stellene Volandes in conversation with Andreas Dracopoulos. If you are interested in attending register directly here.