Bringing world’s biggest fundraiser to Bermuda

  • Ron Spencer and his mother, Pam Short shortly before she died from cancer in 2008 at age 59 in California. Her death inspired Mr Spencer to become more involved in cancer awareness programmes.

    Ron Spencer and his mother, Pam Short shortly before she died from cancer in 2008 at age 59 in California. Her death inspired Mr Spencer to become more involved in cancer awareness programmes.

Ron Spencer didn’t know much about cancer until the disease claimed his mother’s life.

Everything changed for the Colonial Insurance employee after that day in 2008, and he became more active in helping to combat the illness.

From stuffing enevelopes for the Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre, to participating in Movember, the male cancer awareness event, the Business Developer and Account Manager has volunteered in myriad ways overs the years.

“I lost my mother, Pam Short, to cancer in 2008,” said Mr Spencer. “It made me more curious about cancer. I realised that not only had I been affected by cancer, but probably everyone around me had been affected in some way. I reached out to the Centre a while back.”

Stuffing envelopes only goes so far, however, and now he’s behind a move to bring the most successful cancer fundraiser in the world to the Island.

The Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre, in conjunction with the American Cancer Society, is to host a local Relay for Life, an event that raises a million dollars a day in the United States.

In the Relay, individuals, or teams, raise money through sponsorship by walking around a track for 24 hours. Mr Spencer’s sister took part in an event in California, and was blown away by the support she received. Initially aiming to raise to $300, she eventually brought in $5,000.

“They [his family] were blown away by the magnitude of the event,” said Mr Spencer. “There were thousands of people there. I donated to them, and then in doing that I saw all the different sites about Relay for Life, and realised how big they were.

“I realised they were not just in the US, but were reaching out to other countries. My sister’s goal was to raise $300, and she raised $5,000. She couldn’t believe how much people supported her in her efforts.”

Inspired by what he had seen and heard, Mr Spencer, along with the Centre, reached out to Relay for Life organisers with the hope of convincing them to allow Bermuda to stage an event.

The initial response wasn’t promising. Taken aback by the success of their fundraiser, the American Cancer Society were in the process of pulling back globally to give themselves time to regroup.

“I was about to give up,” said Mr Spencer. “Then, I got an unusual e-mail from a total stranger who took part in Relay for Life in California.

“Every time she travelled she would go online, and see if there was a relay event in her neck of the woods. She used to come out to Bermuda because her father was a sailor, and used to spend time here as a kid.

“When she googled ‘relay’ my name came up because I must have talked about it.

“We had coffee in town one day and she said, ‘don’t give up. You will be very sad if you do’. I picked the phone up again; I called Relay. I called Deborah Narraway of the Centre. We had a conference call with Relay for Life and it started again. Then we were technically approved as a country.”

Still, the Centre had to show the American organisers that Bermuda had a formal cancer centre and a cancer rate that warranted an event.

“We had to prove ourself as a not for profit that encompasses all cancers,” said Ms Narraway, Marketing and Fundraising Manager at the Centre. “Getting accepted was really about proving that, and that the Island had cancer rates that warranted an event.”

Two members of the American Cancer Society were recently on the Island to begin initial training for volunteers to show them how to promote, organise and implement Relay for Life in Bermuda.

“When we took the programme globally back in 1996 we did wonder how it would translate out of the United States,” said Iris Pendergast, Director of the Global Relay Programme. “Now, what Relay has done is introduce a universal language about cancer. It doesn’t matter if you are walking on a track at a Relay in Zambia, Belgium or Bermuda; if you have lost someone to cancer, the feelings that you go through are exactly the same. Relay is built on people telling their story. It is about calling people to action to end the fight against cancer. That is what makes it so successful.”

Bermuda is now the 22 country accepted by the American Cancer Society to run Relay for Life. The Bermuda Cancer and Health Centre aim to stage the Island’s first relay in 2014.

For more information see or or call Bermuda Cancer and Health at 236-1001.

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Published Mar 26, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Mar 25, 2013 at 4:13 pm)

Bringing world’s biggest fundraiser to Bermuda

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