A Special Tribute shared by Ted Mullin’s mom, Mary Henry
May 5, 2007
Twenty-three years ago today Ted came into our family at 6:02 a.m. on a chilly spring Saturday in Chicago. In Louisville, Kentucky, my hometown, it was Derby Day. Swale won the 1984 “Run for the Roses.” We used to tease Ted that he should be grateful we didn’t adopt “Swale” as his nickname. I startled the lactation nurse who appeared around 4:35 p.m. that afternoon to conduct Breastfeeding 101 when I asked her to return after the Derby was over. I imagine she wondered about my maternal priorities. I thought they were exactly where they ought to have been.
Ted grew up to love horse racing, mint juleps, Louisville and the Kentucky Derby. I like to think he caught the “bug” on his first day of life, snuggled with me and Rick, as the Derby aired on television. After Ted left for college, he called us each year on the first Saturday in May after the race to rehash the details. The memory of that annual ritual now joins countless other reminders of how much we miss him. As Rick says, Ted’s absence is always present.
This year Ted’s birthday once again falls on the first Saturday in May, coinciding with the 133rd running of the Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs, an alignment of the stars that somehow seems a fitting occasion for an email. The problem is, where to start? I used to find it hard to write about Ted’s journey through cancer treatment. Now I know that was the easy part. What do I call this message — is it still “Ted’s Journey?” Rick’s answer, hitting the nail precisely on the head, is that Ted’s Journey continues through everyone’s efforts in Ted’s memory and honor. And you, the “everyones,” have been hard at work.
In early October the Carleton College community held a memorial service for Ted in Skinner Chapel where Ted’s teachers, classmates and other friends shared their memories of Ted with us. There is a tradition in the Carleton History Department that retiring professors receive the gift of a wood box hand-crafted by one of the faculty into which are placed remembrances and tributes to the retiree. The History Department presented us with a cherry wood box during the memorial service, filled with remembrances of Ted. [Some of these are posted on an online remembrance book, and the History Department has a DVD of the memorial service.]
While we cannot go far without feeling the pain of Ted’s absence in our daily lives, reminders abound of his 22 years well-lived, of his spirit among us. As one of you commented to me last winter, “those ripples of goodness just keep going on and on . . . .” The annual Northfield, Minnesota, Relay for Life to benefit the American Cancer Society began last night on the eve of Ted’s birthday. Some of you may remember that Ted co-captained two Relay for Life teams while at Carleton in Northfield. Among the participants in last night’s event was a group of Carleton swimmer alumni/alumnae who called themselves “Cancer Sucks: Ted’s Teammates ’06.”
The Colby College Relay for Life also began last night. Evan requested the midnight to 1 a.m. slot in honor of Ted and his birthday. Coach Tom Burton emailed us yesterday to say that unbeknownst to Evan, Coach Burton and the entire swimming and diving team plus Evan’s non-swimming friends would join Evan for the hour.
A new scoreboard in Ted’s name greeted the Carleton swimming and diving team at the opening of the 2006-07 meet season. A plaque in his honor occupies the wall at the entrance to the Thorpe Pool stands. The History Department created a prize in Ted’s name, to be given annually to “a junior history major who best exhibits academic excellence (a GPA of at least 3.5) and personal qualities of character similar to the ones we cherished in Ted: integrity, academic and/or athletic passion and drive to excel; selflessness and generosity; an inquiring and flexible mind;interest in the role/influence of religion and ethics in history, and tolerance, curiosity and good humor.”
Through the generosity of family and friends, the first “Ted Mullin Prize in History” has just been awarded. Again through the good offices of family and friends, a bench in Ted’s memory will soon be installed on the Carleton campus, overlooking Lyman Lakes, along with a large stone from the Carleton Arboretum bearing a plaque with the Mary Oliver poem, “The Summer Day.” We will travel to Carleton for the June 9, 2007 Commencement at which Ted will be awarded an honorary degree.
Here in Chicago, the Ted Mullin Pediatric Cancer Research Fund held at the University of Chicago is approaching $98,000, a figure beyond our wildest imaginings. The Ted Mullin Fund is part of a vision and commitment at the University of Chicago to provide a research-based approach to the diagnosis, treatment and care of all individuals with sarcoma. The clinical staff of orthopedists, pediatric oncologists and radiation therapists is in place. The section of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology is currently recruiting for two new positions in the area of sarcoma treatment: a scientist to focus on the molecular basis of sarcoma and a physician-scientist dedicated to bringing new therapies to the clinic (phase I drugs and bone regeneration therapies). The University can leverage philanthropy by a factor of ten through grant applications and other sources of funding. Ted’s fund thus becomes a tool of recruitment. The sarcoma group will be located in the Institute for Molecular Pediatric Science (IMPS–someone had a sense of humor). IMPS is the first interdisciplinary institute dedicated to molecular pediatric science in the United States.
The growth of Ted’s cancer research fund rests on the support of family and friends, as well as contributions from many people we have never met. Last fall, Craig Johnson, an assistant coach of the Carleton swimming and diving team, suggested a swim-a-thon in Ted’s honor. The captains of the men’s and women’s teams spread the idea to the other MIAC (Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) swimming and diving teams and to the New England Small College Athletic Conference teams (the NESCAC which includes Colby College where Evan swims). On November 6, 2006, twelve college teams from the two conferences took part in a simultaneous “hour of power” swim-a-thon. They raised team spirit, cancer awareness, and over $11,000 for the Ted Mullin Cancer Research Fund. Rick recently proposed to the annual coaches’ meetings of both the MIAC and the NESCAC that their teams participate in a 2007 “hour of power” swim-a-thon next fall and they have agreed. We hope to spread the “hour of power” swim-a-thon to other Division III swimming and diving teams. In addition to the college teams several high school swimming and diving teams and club swimming teams have raised money for the fund.
On dry land, Carleton Cuts for Cancer 2007 contributed its proceeds to the Ted Mullin Fund. Students and staff got hair cuts of varying magnitude, from trims to mohawks to shaved heads, in a campus-wide fundraiser. The “Cancer Sucks” tee-shirts of which Ted was so proud continue to be sold at Carleton for the benefit of the Ted Mullin Fund. A recent incarnation is a black tee-shirt with white lettering in honor of the White Sox (hitting? who needs hitting!).
Evan will be home for the summer in a couple of weeks, completing a demanding junior year at Colby. Catherine reminded us the other night that she has 12 more days left in her high school career (but who’s counting?). She will join Evan in the fall as a first year student at Colby College.
We think of all of you often. We have been moved again and again by your many acts of kindness and support over the past eight months. We have been touched by how many of you remembered that today is Ted’s birthday. It seems only yesterday when we gathered together at Ted’s wake, funeral and burial, and the memorial service at Carleton. You will never know what it meant and still means to our family that so many of you came, often from great distances, to be with him and us. Through cards, letters, emails and calls we were joined by many more of you in the days and weeks following his death. We are particularly grateful to Ted’s young friends who keep in touch with us, extending a powerful link to him on which we rely. Faithfulness is all around us.
Mary, Rick, Ted in spirit, Evan and Catherine