Husband’s Death from Leukemia Spurs Wife’s Devotion to Fundraising

Barbara MacKay Vinson is modest about her 22 years of fundraising for the Comprehensive Cancer Center at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

“You just don’t know the connections of life and how it all snowballs into something big,’’ she said.

It was the death of her husband, Bob MacKay, to leukemia in December 1993 that spurred Barbara into action. She said the physicians, nurses and staff at Wake Forest Baptist who cared for Bob during his 3½-year battle became like family. And she wanted to give back to that family.

She created the MacKay Foundation for Cancer Research and, working with her family and volunteers, the nonprofit organization has raised well over $1 million. The money funds blood and marrow transplants, leukemia and hematology research, and education. For 20 years, the foundation’s signature event was the Bob MacKay Memorial Golf Tournament, which raised as much as $80,000 a year. 

Cancer Center Hero

The foundation hosts free concerts, at which donations are accepted. About 250 people turned out in February for “Mozart, Mendelssohn and Monk—An Evening of Music.’’ The foundation also hosts other events, including dinner-dances and “sports nights.’’ The latter feature athletes such as former Carolina Panthers receiver Ricky Proehl and Olympic medalists Joey Cheek and Dan Jansen.

Barbara was honored for her fundraising during this year’s “Pink Game,’’ the annual Wake Forest University women’s basketball game to benefit the Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Breast Care Center. At halftime, Barbara received the 2016 Community Hero Award for being an outstanding Comprehensive Cancer Center supporter.

Barbara’s fundraising has a big impact. 

Dr. Bayard Powell, section chief of Hematology and Oncology for Wake Forest Baptist Health, told those who attended “Mozart, Mendelssohn and Monk” that research can unlock potential cures to cancer.

“What these funds really do is create pilot projects that may not otherwise get support,’’ Powell said. “Without seed funds, some projects would never get started. We greatly appreciate your support.’’

Dr. Dianna Howard, director of Wake Forest Baptist’s blood and marrow transplant program, likewise said the MacKay Foundation’s fundraising has made a difference.

“A lot of the money that’s been raised helps research happen,” she said. “It also helps some of the people doing phenomenal work travel somewhere and present their information to others.”

No one is more aware of the value of research than Barbara herself. The leukemia that took her husband’s life is now curable. And one of the experimental drugs he tried while he was ill is part of the two curing drugs given to people with his form of leukemia.

“The person who’s diagnosed with cancer, what they want most of all is to survive,’’ Barbara said. “Bob was willing to take that experimental drug, and if our foundation can help in any way to find more cures or help other people, that’s what he would want.”

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