Today would be Danny Thomas’s 100th birthday. Mr. Thomas founded St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, and in our new book [Social Excellence: We Dare You; How Handshakes Can Change the World], we share Danny’s story as an example of Social Excellence in action. Before we share that excerpt though, please consider supporting St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Learn more here.
Happy Birthday Danny.
**The following is an excerpt from our new book, Social Excellence: We Dare You by Matthew Mattson, Jessica Gendron Williams, and Josh Orendi (pg. 180-181)
If you walk through the halls of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, you can see concrete evidence of Social Excellence in action. Throughout that miracle-producing building that houses the world’s most innovative pediatric cancer research and treatment center for catastrophic childhood diseases, are plaques with names of people who have supported the cause of the hospital. Many of those names, especially from the early years, are friends of one man—Danny Thomas.
St. Jude Children’s Research hospital is a treatment center where no child is ever denied treatment because of the family’s inability to pay. It treats thousands of young children and desperate families each year. This iconic pediatric medical Mecca is the physical manifestation of Danny Thomas’s integrity, dream, and Social Excellence.
The story of St. Jude’s beginnings can be best found at www.StJude.org, but the basic version goes like this. In the 1950’s, Danny Thomas had become an internationally known film and television star. He had built up a massive network of powerful players in the entertainment industry. Years before, he had made a personal, spiritual commitment after a moving religious experience. When praying to St. Jude Thaddeus, the patron saint of hopeless causes, Danny asked the saint to “help me find my way in life, and I will build you a shrine.”
Once he had achieved fame and wealth, he kept that promise, but realized he couldn’t do it all on his own. He determined the best shrine to build would be a children’s hospital, and that was quite a massive—and expensive—endeavor. He asked his entertainment friends to help and reached out to businessmen he was connected with. He raised funds the old-fashioned way, by criss-crossing the United States by car, hosting benefits, and asking for contributions to his cause. He shook hands. He shared his story and his dream. He built relationships. He engaged co-collaborators. Eventually, he even turned to a culturally-based organization he was engaged with for the last financial boost to make his dream a reality.
Matt Mattson and Jessica Gendron Williams have had the opportunity to visit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital several times when speaking to many of their volunteers about Social Excellence. But Danny Thomas’s legacy teaches these lessons better than any workshop could. The plaques that hang throughout the halls of the hospital indicating financial donors might seem to some like a necessary recognition for wealthy people who want accolades, but the reality is that each of these plaques represents a person who was directly touched by Danny Thomas’s personal social network.
Even though Danny died in 1991, because he shook hands, had conversations, shared his dream, and changed the world, today’s donors to St. Jude can keep his dream alive. Because he shook hands, had conversations, shared his dream, and changed the world, millions of otherwise helpless children are alive because of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s work.