Ignoring Polls; Nadler's 'Family'; the Jimmy Fund

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Good morning, it’s Wednesday, May 22, 2019. Carl Einar Gustafson had never heard the word lymphosarcoma until he was diagnosed with it at age 11. While walking to school in New Sweden, Maine one morning in 1947, the boy experienced stomach cramps so painful and sudden that he was rushed to the hospital.

The prognosis wasn’t good: The fatality rate for childhood victims of non-Hodgins lymphoma was around 70 percent at that time. Doctors didn’t tell the boy any of that, but they didn’t have to: He figured things were bad when his father, a stoic Scandinavian potato farmer, wept at the news.

“I knew something was up, because Dad just didn’t cry,” Gustafson said later. “He looked like a beaten man.”

But this story didn’t have a sad ending, as I’ll explain in a moment. First, I’d point you to RealClearPolitics’ front page, which presents our poll averages, videos, breaking news stories, and aggregated opinion columns spanning the political spectrum. We also offer original material from our own reporters and contributors, including the following:

* * *

“Don’t Believe the Polls” Mantra Could Hurt the GOP. Myra Adams examines Biden-Trump matchup numbers and warns Republicans that ignoring them could make Trump a single-term president.

Hey, Joe! The Acela Doesn’t Stop in Scranton. Michael H. Dardzinski advises the former veep to let his actions mirror his words when it comes to the concerns of blue-collar workers.

Jerry Nadler’s “Family” Values. Mary Grabar revisits the congressman’s Clinton-era role in obtaining a pardon for a domestic terrorist.

On Trade, the Die Is Cast With China. Hal Lambert predicts that Trump’s hard-line stance will lead companies to relocate manufacturing to other Southeast Asian countries, Mexico, Central America, and the United States.

Peter Schweizer Video Series Looks at Biden and Son. RealClearInvestigations has this exclusive first look at Part 1 of "The Drill Down With Peter Schweizer," which examines Joe Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings.

A Big Climate Bill That Can Pass This Year. In RealClearEnergy, Jay Hakes proposes a Manhattan Project for the environment.

Our Unwritten Constitution. RealClearPolicy continues its “American Project” series with an essay by Peter Lawler and Richard Reinsch on the philosophical underpinnings that guided our Founding Fathers.

Peace in Afghanistan? In RealClearDefense, Robert J. Felderman assesses the Taliban’s willingness to reach a deal.

* * *

Carl Einar Gustafson had surgery, turned 12, and was sent to be a patient of Sidney Farber, a pioneering Boston physician who was developing an experimental treatment now known around the world as chemotherapy. Farber, who had recently founded the Children's Cancer Research Foundation, took a liking to the boy, and when approached by the producers for a popular radio show called “Truth or Consequences,” chose him as a guest on the program.

Taking a cue from the Gustafson family, which called the boy by his middle name, Farber always addressed him as “Einar.” Protective of his patient’s privacy, however, the doctor insisted that the announcers call him “Jimmy” on their program, which aired 71 years ago today.

And on May 22, 1948, Ralph Edwards, the show’s popular host, did his live broadcast from Boston Children's Hospital. Seemingly to break the ice, Edwards asked the boy a question about the local National League team, the Boston Braves.

“Who’s the catcher on the Braves, Jimmy?'”

“Phil Masi,” came the reply.

“That’s right. Have you ever met Phil Masi?'”


Suddenly a third voice was heard by listeners across the country: “Hi, Jimmy! My name is Phil Masi.”

Then, as if by magic, one Boston Braves star after another walked from the hospital hallway into Jimmy’s room, bringing autographed hats, balls, and bats. Boston skipper Billy Southworth was the final visitor -- and he carried into the room an authentic Braves uniform for the boy. A piano was wheeled in and the sick kid led the players and hospital staff in a heartfelt, if slightly off-key, rendition of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”

“We play the Chicago Cubs tomorrow in a doubleheader at Braves Field,” Southworth said. “We’re calling it Jimmy’s Day.”

Before making his final pitch, Edwards rather brusquely told Farber that Children’s Cancer Research Foundation was too clunky a name for people to remember. The unflappable doctor, quick on his feet, responded by suggesting another name: the Jimmy Fund. So it came to be, with Edwards concluding the emotional broadcast by announcing that that if the program resulted in $20,000 being donated to the fund, Jimmy would be given a television set to watch Braves games in the hospital.

What happened next was the real miracle. Checks began arriving from every corner of the country. Coffee cans were passed around at Little League games, church bake sales, and movie theaters all over New England. In the city of Boston itself, people took cabs or street cars to Children’s Hospital to give cash.

The initial fund drive reaped nearly 12 times the goal Edwards had set. Einar Gustafson got his television and his expressed wish: the Braves went on to win the pennant. More important, ground was broken the following year on a five-story, Jimmy Fund-financed medical center for Dr. Sidney Faber and his staff.

It’s a storybook ending that keeps repeating itself. The Boston Braves moved to Milwaukee and then to Atlanta, but the Jimmy Fund stayed in New England. In 1953, the Boston Red Sox adopted the cause as the team’s official charity. Ted Williams, back from the Korean War, became the most visible face of the fund. Today, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, as Dr. Farber’s original little lab is now called, has some 4,000 employees who do the research and provide other resources to discover cures and provide treatments for all kinds of cancers.

It’s a charity I contribute to each year, usually by sponsoring a rider in the Pan-Mass Challenge, a bicycle race that since its inception in 1980 has raised some $654 million for Dana-Farber. Or you can contribute directly to The Jimmy Fund itself, still going strong seven decades after its founding.

As for the original “Jimmy,” there’s a nice story there, too. Most New Englanders assumed he died in childhood. He didn’t. Dr. Farber’s treatments worked and he got better, went back home to Maine, grew to be a strapping 6-foot-5-inch truck driver, started a construction company, married his high school sweetheart, switched his allegiance to the Red Sox after the Braves skipped town, remarried after becoming a widow, and started another family.

Half a century later, he revealed himself. The idea was his sister’s, who, with her annual check to The Jimmy Fund mentioned in a brief 1997 note that the original “Jimmy” was her brother -- and still alive. This one struck a chord with a fund official named Karen Cummings, who followed up with a letter of her own. She explained that even Dana-Farber officials assumed that the original Jimmy had passed away, “as the vast majority of children who contracted cancer in the 1940s did not survive.”

Cummings had always hoped that this one had lived, and her joy that Jimmy survived deepened a few days later when her phone rang. “Hi, Karen,” said the voice at the other end of the line. “This is Jimmy. I heard you were looking for me.”

As the New York Times wrote when he finally did pass away in 2001, Einar Gustafson “proves that there are second acts in America, or at least second innings.”

Or third or fourth acts. And nine innings. When asked to throw out the first pitch before a Red Sox-Yankees game at Fenway Park in 1998, on the 50th anniversary of The Jimmy Fund, Gustafson complied, but not before putting it in perspective when asked by a Boston Globe reporter how he’d feel about the standing ovation he was certain to receive.

“I’ve had that before,” he replied. “They did that for me at the Braves game in ’48, and I waved to the crowd.”

But despite his inherent Swedish cool, 1998 did bring a thrill for the original Jimmy -- and for Ted Williams. The two men met, and it was hard to tell who was happier about it.

“How are you, Jimmy baby?” said the Splendid Splinter when he saw the white-haired 63-year-old grandfather of six. “Geez, you look great. You’re an inspiration to everybody!”

Today, the survival rate for the kind of cancer Carl Einar Gustafson had as a kid has surpassed 90 percent. That’s good. It’s not good enough, though. That’s why I contribute to Dana-Farber each year, and hope you will, too. And it’s not the only worthy charity. Recently, I’ve learned of an organization called Cancer Support Community. They are doing the Lord’s work in this field, too, and can always use more help. 

Carl M. Cannon  
Washington Bureau chief, RealClearPolitics
@CarlCannon (Twitter)

Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.

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