I was at a very special party last night: the 25th wedding anniversary party of Syd and Pam Birrell. Syd and Pam are the devoted parents to Rebecca, Ben and James, who died in 2001 at the age of 7 of neuroblastoma, a deadly childhood cancer.
James and his family began raising money to fund research to save James’ life and the lives of other children just like him. When it was too late for James, the family continued on, hopeful they would find a cure in time for other children.
The Birrells have given so much, including millions of dollars they have raised through the fund they established in James’ name. And they do so much more…
As painful as it must be, they stand with other neuroblastoma families as their stories are unfolding. As neuroblastoma children get sicker, the Birrells walk beside the parents on the slow, painful journey of losing a child. They know for that parent, the path is inherently lonely. But they make sure they do not walk it alone.
What the Birrells do is selfless. They are not motivated by money or personal advancement. They are motivated by the belief that some day soon, children will not die of the disease that took their son. They are actively working for a day when The James Fund can cease to exist – when a cure has been found for neuroblastoma.
But about the party.
it was a glorious fun-filled affair with a great many people in attendance. Dear friends traveled in from far and wide, including from New York.
Additionally, the lovely and extraordinarily talented Leslie Fagan, who made her Carnegie Hall debut last season, performed classic works personalized for the occasion.
Rhonda and Don Barnet hosted the fabulous fete in their beautiful home, Rhonda’s parents supplying fresh lamb and beef cooked slowly over a spit for the occasion.
Wine was plentiful, and laughter filled the air.
Syd and Pam, we know you would not have chosen the path life put you on if the choice had been yours to make. But you have looked despair in the eyes and chosen hope. You choose to go on and to find joy not just in memories but in today and the promise of tomorrow.
You remind us of how strong the human spirit can be; you inspire us all with your spirit of giving.
We’re glad you are our friends. And we can’t wait to celebrate with you again 25 years from now. Then, we hope, your guests of honour will include children cured of neuroblastoma – thanks to one little boy named James and a family who fought so hard to save others.