75 years later, legacy of original “Jimmy” lives on through Jimmy Fund Golf

Jimmy Fund Golf presented by Mohegan Sun is one of the oldest and largest charity golf programs in the country, embodying the grassroots spirit of the Jimmy Fund, with more than 20,000 golfers coming together across 10 states to organize and participate in more than 140 tournaments annually in support of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Some golf events remember loved ones who have passed from cancer, while others honor those who have fought or still fight. But one—the Jimmy Memorial Golf Tournament—recognizes the legacy of the person who started it all.

Seventy-five years ago, in 1948, a young patient of Sidney Farber, MD, dubbed “Jimmy” to protect his privacy, shared his story of battling lymphoma on a national radio broadcast from his hospital bed. The original purpose of the broadcast was to raise enough money for a TV so Jimmy could watch his favorite baseball team, the Boston Braves, from his hospital room. Instead, his story ended up inspiring more than $200,000 in donations from across the country, forging the strong community of donors we know today as the Jimmy Fund.

Jimmy—or Einar Gustafson, as his family and friends knew him—was cured by Sidney Farber, in one of the earliest cases of cancer remission through chemotherapy, and went on to live a long and fulfilling life on his family’s farm in northern Maine. However, it wasn’t until 1998, during the 50th anniversary of the original radio broadcast, that Einar was officially recognized as the original “Jimmy.” His identity now known, Einar was celebrated across the nation for rallying hundreds of thousands of supporters with his story of hope and inspiring others to defy cancer as he did.

One such recognition was the creation of the annual Jimmy Memorial Golf Tournament, which has brought golfers and supporters together in Einar’s memory since his passing in 2001, including many employees and vendors of Dana-Farber. With former Dana-Farber employee Sandy Eskin at the helm as tournament director, and Einar’s two daughters, Lynn MacLeod and Lisa Patti, as dedicated supporters, along with many extended family members, the tournament has raised more than $1.9 million for cancer research and patient care at Dana-Farber.

“I never imagined, 22 years ago, that the Jimmy Memorial would be bigger, better, and stronger than ever at almost $2 million,” says Sandy, who retired in 2018 after 32 years in Dana-Farber’s Office of Research. “Words can’t express how grateful I am for our generous and dedicated sponsors and participants, many of whom have supported this event since the beginning. They continue to spread the word, bringing in new sponsors and participants every year. Without them, this event would not be what it is today.”

For Lynn and Lisa, the importance of the tournament goes beyond the funds—it’s about carrying on their father’s legacy of hope.

“Dad’s priority was to be able to go to any event the Jimmy Fund wanted him at, because he knew that more people would show up, and that would mean more money for research,” Lisa says. “He was proud to be able to show people that if he made it back then, when chemotherapy was just starting, you or your child could, too, with how treatments have improved.” “Dad didn’t play golf, but he’d always go and speak because he knew it brought hope,” adds Lynn. “So even though Lisa and I don’t golf, we go to the Jimmy Memorial every year because we know he would’ve wanted us to.”

Having attended the tournament for 20 of its 21 years, missing only the inaugural event, Lynn and Lisa are particularly touched by all the familiar faces they see on the course.

“It’s unbelievable how many of the same golfers come year after year,” Lisa says. “The commitment, not only of the golfers, but of the volunteers and the workers from the hospital who come, is incredible. Many of them have seen our kids grow up.”

For Sandy, too, that bond between her event participants is evident. “Although we only see them once a year,” she says, “my husband Don and I consider them family.” With the Jimmy Memorial tournament expected to surpass $2 million in total funds raised in 2023, Lynn and Lisa attribute the event’s success to the dedication of Sandy and her team.

“This is not just a once-a-year event for me,” Sandy says. “It has become a huge part of my life. It has been my personal privilege and incredible honor to continue Einar’s legacy with his family and all those who support this event.”

For Lisa and Lynn, the importance of the day is not just about the joy of driving golf carts and chatting with attendees; it’s also about the important updates on groundbreaking cancer research and care.

“I love listening to the guest speakers they bring in from the hospital, and hearing about the important advancements,” says Lisa. “It makes you realize how important every little donation really is.”

As for the future of their father Einar’s legacy of hope, his daughters know it’s in good hands.

“We’ve been able to include our children, and our grandchildren, even, and because they know how important it is to us, I see that they’re going to carry it on when we’re gone,” Lynn reflects. “It’s the 75th year of the Jimmy Fund, and God love us, Lisa and I will be at the 100th. I don’t know, but our children certainly will be.”

Do you golf? Help celebrate the Jimmy Fund’s 75th year and raise important funds for cancer research and patient care by joining Lisa, Lynn, Sandy, and others on the fairways this golf season. Join a tournament near you or inquire about starting your own!Help support these efforts by joiningThe Dana-Farber Campaign, our ambitious, multi-year fundraising effort to prevent, treat, and defy cancer. The Dana-Farber Campaign will accelerate the Institute’s strategic priorities by supporting revolutionary science, extraordinary care, and exceptional expertise. As a community, we have the power to create a more hopeful, cancer-free future—in Boston and around the world. Together, we can defy cancer at every turn. Learn more about The Dana-Farber Campaign and how you can get involved at DefyCancer.org.