|Danny & Rose Marie Thomas with children (left to right): daughter, Marlo; son, Tony; daughter, Terre.
Image courtesy of St. Jude Childrenï¿½s Research Hospital
I initially hesitated when I was asked to write about Rose Marie Thomas. However powerful words may be, I asked myself if I could really put onto paper how wonderful and meaningful it was to have had her in my life from infancy into adulthood.
One of the great advantages of loving and being loved by someone who was so close to my great grandparents, grandparents and parents is the history and knowledge that preceded me.
To me, she was always Aunt Rosie, even when I could pronounce Rose Marie. Full of life and love, she never faltered in her quest to love and cherish that which she held near to her heart. Early on, I learned from Aunt Rosie the value of love, the value of a giving heart, the value of giving to those who need help, the value of words and the importance of a sense of humor. She always had the right words.
"Never take yourself too seriously," she told me when I told her I wanted to be a photojournalist covering important world events. "And never take anything for granted," she reminded me, again and again.
Like her husband, she too was a great story teller. As I matured, I loved to listen to her stories from the past. I loved how fond she was of my mother, grandmother and great grandmother. I loved to listen to her tell me about the fun they had together.
Born Rose Marie Cassaniti in 1914, Aunt Rosie was a talented singer with her own radio show in Detroit, Michigan. There, she met Danny Thomas, a young, up-and-coming comic and they were married on January 15, 1936. Even though she ended her singing career to take care of her three children, Marlo, Terre and Tony, she always found time for those in need. Besides mothering three remarkable people, another one of her important contributions was her involvement in fundraising for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee- now a world renown research and treatment facility for childhood catastrophic diseases.
After her husband, Danny Thomas became a successful actor in the early 1950s, she traversed the United States with him, raising money to build his dream- St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
When St. Jude Children's Research Hospital opened in 1962, the most typical form of childhood cancer, acute lymphocytic leukemia was survived by less than five percent of the children diagnosed with the disease. Mainly because of discoveries and research done at St. Jude, the survival rate is more than 70 percent, today. St. Jude has never turned away a patient because of their inability to pay for treatment. For her work and dedication in raising funds to help support the research and care given at St. Jude, Rose Marie Thomas was named Lady Commander with Star of Knights of the Holy Sepulchre by Pope Paul VI. Her husband, Danny Thomas, was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal of Honor, the highest civilian award given by Congress for his dedication to saving children's lives.
She was also a life member of St. John's Hospital and Health Center Guild, a perpetual member of the Mary and Joseph League, the Maronite Guild, the Screen Smart Set Auxiliary for the Motion Picture and Television Relief Fund, the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Eucharistic Orphanage of Lebanon and the Women's Auxiliary of Permanent Charities of the Entertainment Industry.
She received awards from Mt. Sinai Hospital and Clinic, the Fraternal Order of the Eagles, B'nai B'rith and E.S.A. International, and commendations from the Mayors of Los Angeles and Beverly Hills for her civic accomplishments. Rose Marie Thomas was named St. Jude Children's Research Hospital's "Volunteer of the Decade, 1980-1989" for her efforts for the hospital. Every year she organized a fund-raising dinner that was a tour de force in L.A. And every year, she made sure I sat with people who genuinely cared about the plight of these children.
It was in her lap, in her warm and inviting living room where I first became acquainted with the importance of trying to diminish others' suffering, in whatever way possible.
Aunt Rosie will live forever in my heart and conscience. I thank her for teaching me and others, the value of kindness, love and laughter.