On a May evening in 1948, Ralph Edwards’ “Truth or Consequences” show brought its radio listeners into a room at Boston Children’s Hospital, where a 12-year-old lymphoma patient waited. For privacy he was called simply “Jimmy.” The boy loved the Boston Braves, and the radio audience could hear his shock and joy as the players came one by one into his room. The show concluded with Jimmy singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” his voice high, off pitch, totally alive. Jimmy touched a nation, and soon more than $200,000 poured into the hospital to research a cure for children’s cancer — this at a time when pediatric cancers were overwhelmingly fatal.
Thus began the Jimmy Fund (jimmyfund.org), New England’s most famous charity, and the official cause of the Boston Red Sox, one of numerous regional institutions to fight for all the Jimmys who have come after. Today the Jimmy Fund raises more than $45 million each year — and the research those funds have spawned has saved countless thousands of young lives.
Who Jimmy was remained a mystery for a long time; the public assumed that he had died too young. But with the fund’s 50th anniversary approaching, Jimmy came forward in March 1998. His name was Einar Gustafson, a truck driver from New Sweden, Maine, father of three, grand-father of six. A quiet man, he was a celebrity once again, and until his sudden death in January 2001 at age 65, a symbol not of death cheated, he said, but of life. — Mel Allen
Recognizing the 60th anniversary year of the founding of New England’s most famous charity, you can hear the
original radio broadcast from 1948 that launched the Jimmy Fund.