It was one of those days where I didn’t have a minute to spare. But for some reason, I picked up the phone anyway. It was Syd Birrell, a dad whose young son James was battling Neuroblastoma, one of the deadliest of cancers.
“James has become obsessed with Apollo 13,” he said, referring to the film starring Hanks about the ill-fated moon mission that almost resulted in disaster but defied the odds returning everyone home safely.
It made sense. If I were battling a deadly disease, I think I’d become obsessed with it too.
“Um, I hate to even ask, but do you know Tom Hanks? James has some heavy duty questions about space and the movie and well…”
Unusual requests come with the territory around here. And no, I didn’t know Tom Hanks.
It was one of those moments where my deadline addled brain was screaming “just say no and be done with it.”
But the truth was, we did know a couple of people in common. And even though I thought we had a snowball’s chance in hell of getting his attention, I couldn’t say no.
Hanks befriended the family and became the Honourary Patron of The James Fund, which was started initially to save James’ life and then continued to save the lives of other children battling Neuroblastoma after James died.
Celebrity alignments used to be all the rage in the charitable space but has tarnished over time with lavish pay for play deals and less than charitable behaviour from some celebrities.
Tom is different. He has championed the cause and helped as he could because he is a dad who connected with a little kid and wanted to help. And he has used his celebrity stature to help the harder to fund causes.
Everyone loves to send a sick kid on vacation. But funding the research that might save their life just isn’t sexy.
Tom has helped make it sexier.
Recently, Diana Birrell, the executive director of The James Fund and James’ aunt and I were so very lucky to be able to go down to New York and see Tom on Broadway in The Lucky Guy. We were given the celebrity treatment as we were ushered past hundreds of people and into his dressing room for a private visit.
He is the best friend kids with one of the worst diseases imaginable could ever have. He’s also a prince of a guy.
Are you a fan of Tom Hanks? If so, please consider making a donation to one of his very favourite causes here. Any amount will help.