I never knew T.J. Martell. I never took the time to look behind the name to find out who he was or what the T.J. Martell Foundation was all about. For as long as I can remember, T.J. Martell was a prepaid round of golf with my friends that also included golf shoes, bags and other paraphernalia given to all participants in the contest. I also attended, at someone else’s expense, various banquets in different cities honoring names ranging from the famous to the vaguely familiar.
T.J. Martell? I didn’t know and didn’t really care.
In our business, we are constantly infused with more than a little cynicism. The compound was still on fire in Waco when the first Branch Davidian jokes began making the rounds. Physical and career deaths in our industry are dealt with in the most caustic terms. Someone loses their job and we’re quick to point out what a loser they were from the start. Someone loses their life and except for maybe a brief memorial, the knives are out and waving. It seems like we have to act ugly to prove how cool we are.
Maybe this is the only way we can react to the roller coaster we ride in the entertainment business. The pressure of delivering daily gives us little chance to stop and smell the roses or mourn someone’s passing for long.
And so it was with me and T.J. Martell.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the cynic’s corner. A lot of people did care. And because they did, I thought maybe I should.
So, last week I went searching for T.J. Martell.
It didn’t take me long to find him.
T.J. was the son of music executive Tony Martell. T.J. Martell died of leukemia in 1975, but before he did, he made his father promise to raise money for research to help others with the illness. A father’s promise to his son continues to live and grow stronger. Tony Martell started the Foundation after his son’s death for the purpose of raising one million dollars for cancer research. That figure was reaching in 1979.
Since then, over $65 million dollars has been raised for research at the T.J. Martell Foundation Laboratories in New York and the Neil Bogart Memorial Fund in Los Angeles.
What makes the T.J. Martell Foundation so special? In a business that attracts charities by the thousands, why does the T.J. Martell Foundation stand high above the rest?
It could be the people involved. The Board of Directors reads like a “Who’s Who” of our industry. It could be that those directors and many others involved in the charity serve without compensation. It could be that the Foundation does really good work. It could bed Tony Martell and the commitment to the promise he made years ago.
It might be that this year, the Foundation struck closer to home with the announcement of the first annual Bruce Bird Commitment to Excellence Award. I knew Bruce Bird and am proud to be associated with something that continues his legacy.
It might be all of these things.
And it might be none of them.
It really doesn’t matter. What does matter are my feelings about the Foundation and the people involved. And those feelings have changed a life-long cynic into someone who hopes to be less so.
In the middle of a bed of weeds, a rose grows. Our industry, infected with the arrogance and cut-throat decisions associated with most big business, has actually crated something extremely special. It makes me feel proud of my profession.
The next time you’re involved in one of the many T.J. Martell Foundation fundraisers, be more than just a player. Be a participant. Don’t waste an opportunity by allowing a record company or other business to pay your way. Dig in and make a contribution yourself. Better yet, donate your time. Whatever you give will come back a thousand-fold.
God forbid that anyone reading this becomes ill with one of the many diseases the T.J. Martell Foundation researches daily. But rest assured, if that happens, the best ill be available to you because this industry has been made to care.
I didn’t know T.J. Martell. I know his father only casually. But I want to thank them both for the many millions of dollars they’ve raised for research and for the many lives they’ve saved from serious illness.
Most of all, I want to thank them for making me care.