Friends of Dana-Farber recognize Billy Starr and the PMC

The Friends of Dana-Farber’s third annual Surprise Party was held April 29. The event, a fundraiser for the 1,200-member volunteer organization, honored Institute Trustee Billy Starr, founder and executive director of the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, for his more than 30 years of support to Dana-Farber.

 Funds raised by Friends are allocated for oncology fellowships, patient services, and cutting-edge research and treatment programs throughout all divisions and departments at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, including nursing, social services, and pastoral care.

Billy Starr; Meredith Beaton-Starr, PMC stewardship and development director; Rebecca Latimore, Friends of Dana-Farber co-president; Tina Peter, Friends of Dana-Farber co-president

Here’s Billy’s speech, reflecting on 30 years of the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge:

My friend, Warren Mosler, who incidentally is running for Chris Dodd’s senatorial seat in Ct., is a 12-year rider and one of the PMC’s most generous donors. A few years ago Warren, who is a distinguished economist, put a question to me that I actually had a decent chance of answering. He asked:  What does riding a bicycle have to do with curing cancer? Recognizing that my best chance for a good grade lay in a simple and succinct response, I answered, “EVERYTHING.” He paused and responded: “EXACTLY.”

Had that conversation transpired back in 1980 rather than in 2007, it would have been very helpful. But the truth is, even back then, the PMC could attract people who embraced ‘pedal power’ as a way to tilt against windmills, to vent frustration and to cope with pain. They recognized that by joining a like-minded group – the PMC – they became empowered and they understood that the battle would require an army.

Clearly, I wasn’t lacking in the audacity or tenacity to push; or the dreaming and scheming to achieve something meaningful. But I could never have imagined the breadth of this PMC journey or how many people it would require to fulfill those dreams. I think I can speak for everyone associated with both the PMC and Dana-Farber when I say that we are optimists by nature but we are realists too. We understand that we are in this for the long haul. And 31 years in, I believe the best is still ahead for the PMC and Dana-Farber.

For on top of our 5,000+ riders and 3,000+ volunteers, the PMC now has a full blown Kids Rides program that has more than 7,000 children ages 3-12 in 33 rides around New England and we have a transitional route for 13-15 year olds that is staged on PMC weekend. We are training the youngest generations about the value of pedaling for a cause. And to my friends approaching 50 and well beyond, looking for their way out of this annual August tradition, the good news is that cycling is the sport of both rehab and senior years – so you and I are not going anywhere but forward.

But perhaps what could not have been predicted was how the PMC would become a tonic for the clinicians, nurses and staff of the Dana-Farber who would use this weekend to connect with their patients, staff and public in an atmosphere that promotes wellness, hope and community in an environment different than the hospital. Over 500 Dana-Farber staff has ridden in the PMC and there is no way to account for all their connections to our riders and volunteers.

Yes, the PMC belongs to everyone. It is a large canvas that can be painted on in many ways and that is its greatest strength. Everybody has a story and anybody can make the PMC better. In 1990, while showing a picture of a bicycle seat, we coined the phrase:  “Chances are, you’ve been sitting on a cure for cancer.” That call to action was all-inclusive. People only needed to come forward and join us, and so many have.

On behalf of my mother who inspired me, my father who nurtured me and my brother & my wife & children who wants me to be my best, I thank you for your support and gracious tribute.

More Photos:

Jean Pearlstein, former Friends of Dana-Farber president; Lee M. Nadler MD, Sr. VP of Experimental Medicine at DFCI; and Nancy Socol, former Friends of Dana-Farber president

Billy Starr and Meredith Beaton-Starr

George P. Canellos, MD at DFCI and Jean Canellos, Friends of Dana-Farber director

Singer Richie Havens performs at the gala event


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