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Who was Jimmy?

The boy who launched the Jimmy Fund

Photo of Jimmy in Uniform

A young "Jimmy" in the uniform the Boston Braves gave to him.

From his first radio broadcast that launched the Jimmy Fund in the late 1940s to his countless recent appearances at Jimmy Fund events, Einar Gustafson—the Jimmy Fund's original "Jimmy"—was an inspiration to hundreds of thousands of people throughout New England.

Jimmy's story began in 1948, when Gustafson was a 12-year-old patient of Dr. Sidney Farber, founder of the Children's Cancer Research Foundation (eventually renamed Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) and a pioneer of modern chemotherapy.

Dubbed "Jimmy" to protect his privacy, Gustafson was selected to speak on Ralph Edwards' national radio program, "Truth or Consequences," which was broadcast from the boy's hospital room. The appeal, aired across the nation on May 22, 1948, generated more than $200,000 in one year to support Dr. Farber's research—and the Jimmy Fund was born.

Lost identity

Following his brush with celebrity and the remission of his cancer, Gustafson returned to his family's farm in northern Maine and later lived for many years in Massachusetts, the home of the Jimmy Fund. Despite clues over the years to Jimmy's fate and identity, everyone at Dana-Farber assumed that the youngster had died, because cure rates for pediatric cancers were so low during the era in which he was treated. While never intentionally concealing his role as "Jimmy," Gustafson remained anonymous until 1998, the 50th anniversary of the original radio broadcast.

After his "welcome back" to Dana-Farber, Gustafson went from public anonymity to near celebrity. His story was featured in People Magazine and Sports Illustrated, and in newspapers nationwide. In 1999, his home state of Maine held a Recognition Day for him and he was named honorary chairman of the Jimmy Fund.

Photo of Jimmy and Kid

"Jimmy" and a friend at the 1999 Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk.

An ambassador for the Jimmy Fund

Gustafson's many efforts on behalf of the Jimmy Fund since his re-emergence included recording public service announcements for radio and television, visiting patients at Dana-Farber, and appearing at Jimmy Fund events such as the Pan-Massachusetts Challenge, the Boston Marathon® Jimmy Fund Walk, and numerous golf tournaments. He also spread the Jimmy Fund's message of hope across the country by driving a trailer truck with the charity's logo and slogan—"Because it takes more than courage to beat cancer"—emblazoned on it.

Sadly, Gustafson died of a stroke at age 65 on Jan. 21, 2001. But his memory continues to provide hope to adults and children with cancer, and inspiration to thousands of Jimmy Fund supporters.

"Einar's story—that he was cured at a time when so few were and that he led such a full life—is an inspiration to all of us," says Edward J. Benz Jr., M.D., president of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. "His story is the story of our nation's war on cancer, and over the past five decades, tens of thousands of people have rallied against cancer in his name. We certainly pledge to continue that fight."

Please join us in honoring Jimmy's legacy in the fight against cancer by making a generous gift to the Jimmy Fund. Help us continue the progress.