Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019 | 2 a.m.
Editor’s note: As he does every August, Brian Greenspun is taking some time off and is turning over his Where I Stand column to others. Today’s guest columnist is Rick Gray, general manager of entertainment operations for Wynn Las Vegas.
I was never a person who regularly donated my time or money to a charitable cause.
And then I got the call.
I was in the Encore Theater at Wynn Las Vegas, where I am in charge of entertainment, when my phone rang. It was Zan (short for Alexandra), my younger daughter. She had been ill the week before and collapsed at work. The doctors thought she had pneumonia, but she was calling to tell me that the tests showed she had Hodgkin lymphoma.
What happened since that call transformed me into a different person by showing me the power of giving. And as I share my story, I hope readers are encouraged to also become part of something bigger than themselves.
I didn’t know much about Hodgkin lymphoma, but I knew that it was curable. I am pretty sure that I said all the right things about how we were going to fight the disease and win; how her mom and I loved her and how she should not worry about anything; how we would do whatever it took.
When the call ended, I wept. I really didn’t know what to do. In an instant, nothing mattered except that my 27-year-old daughter had cancer and I had to find a way to get her the best possible treatment.
I kept the promise. In short order my daughter had the best possible treatment (thanks to the intervention of my boss, Steve Wynn) at UC San Francisco.
Those around her rallied — her fiancé, her friends, her family, her in-laws-to-be and the medical professionals providing her care. She received every treatment, including some that were experimental, but nothing got her to the hoped-for remission.
Ultimately, one of the experimental treatments enabled her to be well enough to get married and have a honeymoon.
And then she was gone.
It is not possible to describe the feeling of losing a child. I could probably write a novel and not get to the truth of the matter or how her death affected everyone who loved her.
Initially, I focused on fulfilling Zan’s final wishes to have her ashes scattered at the three places that gave her the most happiness — her favorite theme park, Burning Man and the Bracebridge Festival at Yosemite — but afterward I found myself needing a new commitment.
Remembering that our older daughter Abby had participated in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Light The Night walk in New York in honor of Zan, I decided to form a team to join the walk in Las Vegas. We adopted the name “Zan’s Fans” from Abby’s team in New York.
I knew little about the event, which raises funding to support leukemia and lymphoma research and honors persons who had lost their battle with cancer, were battling the disease or were in remission.
With limited experience of involvement in a charity organization, I had set myself up to accomplish a task for which I was totally unprepared but for which failure was not an option. The only thing I had going for me was my love for my daughter and a desire to pay homage to her memory and fight this disease. So I jumped in and set up the website provided by the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, created a link and established a fundraising goal of $3,000. I then scoured my address book, sent an email to my contacts and waited.
Within a day, I had reached my goal of $3,000. People sent donations, but more importantly they sent their thoughts and prayers and shared what was in their hearts. I had expected donations of $50, maybe $100, but here were many donations of $1,000 and some as large as $5,000. Each day I would log on with a handkerchief in hand as I had learned that I would, no doubt, burst into tears because of the generosity of friends and acquaintances. I finally ended up raising almost $50,000, enlisted a team of 50 people and was named the single largest fundraiser for Light the Night in Southern Nevada. When I told a friend that I did not understand why people were donating, he said, “Because they love you and want to help.” I finally understood the power of a simple donation.
Afterward, the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society asked me to be chairperson for this year’s walk and to serve on the organization’s board of directors for Southern Nevada. And in the “no good deed goes unpunished” category, the organization has set an ambitious new fundraising goal — $800,000!
I don’t think my list of friends has grown that much since last year, so I will have to “depend on the kindness of strangers,” as Tennessee Williams wrote.
Once again, I feel overwhelmed by the task at hand but hopeful. This year’s walk, like last year’s will be at the College of Southern Nevada’s Torrey Pines Campus. The date is Nov. 2, three years to the day since Zan passed.
Zan did not want to be remembered as the girl who had cancer. However, I think she would be proud to be remembered as the daughter of a father who used her story in order to raise money to help others in need. In honoring her memory I found my own path to giving and charity and donating not only money but my time to a variety of causes. I discovered that giving really is receiving. I also discovered that in these trying times a shared mission, which combines giving and action, brings out the humanity and selflessness in all of us.
I would encourage everyone to get involved in such a mission. If you would like to join us for “Light The Night,” log on to the
Leukemia & Lymphoma Society website (https://www.lls.org/joinlls) and sign up. It is a moving experience to see 5,000-plus people with lanterns held high to beat cancer.
Rick Gray has been the general manager of entertainment operations for Wynn Las Vegas since 2005, after joining the company three years earlier as project manager for theater construction. He has been married for 40 years to Tracy Sherritt Gray and has two daughters, Abby and Zan.