In the Beginning

In the 35 years since its founding in 1976, Memphis magazine has covered just about every subject under the Mid-South sun. Over that period we’ve run a dozen different Elvis covers, rolled out well over two dozen annual City Guides, and even put Willie Herenton on the cover on three separate occasions (go figure). But difficult as it is to believe, this month’s Memphis marks the first time that we’ve ever devoted an entire issue of this magazine to what is perhaps our city’s single most important institution. 

There aren’t many things in this world as famous as Elvis, but St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital may just be one of them. The product of a single man’s vision, the hospital’s very creation in 1962 was something of a miracle. What happened next was even more wondrous. Bringing some of the top scientists in the world together in a place some would call a Southern backwater, Danny Thomas and the doctors of St. Jude not only drew a line in the sand against childhood cancer; they are usually given primary credit for conquering the most virulent of all those cancers —acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

In 1962 a diagnosis of ALL was a death sentence for nearly all the children who contracted this particular form of leukemia; today the hospital’s cure rate stands at 94 percent. And thanks to the extraordinary financial support generated from millions of donors all across the globe — making St. Jude uniquely free for all patients unable to pay for its services — St. Jude remains a major research powerhouse and a mecca for children’s medicine. 

And yet sometimes we locals forget that St. Jude is even here. Part of the reason is probably geography. The sprawling hospital campus, located on the northern edge of downtown, is a bit off the beaten path; many Memphians never get very near it. Far more significant, perhaps, is the simple fact that the nonsqueaky wheel gets no grease. In an age of media sensationalism, the kind of good news St. Jude delivers to our community and the world every day hardly ever makes any big waves. Just thousands of little ones that make all the difference in the world.

In the past, we’ve written on numerous occasions about some of those individual St. Jude victories. But the occasion of the hospital’s fiftieth anniversary (it officially opened on February 4, 1962) seems the perfect opportunity to tell the whole St. Jude story in as comprehensive a fashion as possible. So here’s our best effort. Hopefully, this special issue will help each one of us better understand just how much St. Jude is truly the crown jewel of our city. Enjoy.

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