By Anthony Gioia
For most people or families the date July 28 has no special significance, but for our family it is a date we will never forget. It is also one that had a profound impact on all of Western New York.
July 28, 1989, was the date that Richard and Anne Gioia’s beautiful and brave 5-year-old daughter Katherine lost her courageous battle with cancer and died at Roswell Park Cancer Institute. Like any parents in a similar situation, they were devastated by seeing the heroic battle Katherine fought along with her parents, only to witness such a tragic outcome.
The thing that makes this story so different is that it did not end on that day. Rather, that was just the beginning. Shortly after Katherine’s death Anne said, “It can’t end here, something positive must come out of all this suffering.”
In Katherine’s memory Anne, along with her sister-in-law Donna (my wife), and many like-minded, devoted people, formed an advocacy group dedicated to supporting Roswell Park.
A key factor to the Roswell Park Alliance’s success was that it was never just about Katherine, it was about Roswell Park in particular and fighting cancer in general.
Subsidiary support groups like Ride for Roswell, Carly’s Club, Bosom Buddies and the All-Star Night were formed as part of the Roswell Park Alliance.
These groups and organizations, along with the many individuals they solicited, have raised close to $300 million to support the institute.
It is also important to remember that at that time Roswell Park’s very future was not secure. State funding was in question and Roswell Park didn’t seem to have that many strong advocates to speak on its behalf.
Therefore, a significant priority of the alliance was lobbying the state and others on the importance of Roswell Park to the community specifically and curing cancer in general.
Anne, Donna, Pam Jacobs and others, plus several Buffalo Bills, made countless trips to Albany and Washington to speak on behalf of Roswell Park.
Remember those were the years that the Bills were Super Bowl contenders.
We as a community are in a much different place today than we were some 25 years ago, and so is Roswell Park.
Roswell Park is now the catalyst for our dynamic Medical Campus, which is the most exciting thing that has happened in Western New York in my lifetime. Construction cranes, so long absent from our skyline, and new high-paying jobs are now the norm.
Success has many parents, and that applies to both Roswell Park and the Medical Campus. There are many individuals and organizations that helped make this the success that it is. However, were it not for the brave and dignified battle fought by a beautiful 5-year-old girl I am not sure it would have happened.
Anthony Gioia was the godfather to his niece, Katherine.