Gary Fazio: Generosity To The Cause of Pancreatic Cancer Research
Written By Debra Gelbart
September 21. 2018
For Gary Fazio and the Seena Magowitz Foundation, it’s a mutual admiration society. The Foundation immensely appreciates Gary’s generosity and dedication to the cause of pancreatic cancer research. Gary is eternally grateful for the Foundation’s responsiveness to individual needs and for how he personally has been helped by Roger Magowitz, the Foundation’s founder, and by Dr. Daniel Von Hoff, the world’s leading pancreatic cancer researcher.
Gary Fazio is a mattress industry superstar. He’s enjoyed a 44-year career in the bedding industry. Though he retired from his position as CEO of Serta Simmons Bedding, LLC (SSB) in December 2015, he remains active in industry events and with philanthropic causes important to the industry, including the Seena Magowitz Foundation For Pancreatic Cancer Research.
A Profound Story
In 2014, Gary’s wife Annette was showing signs of something seriously wrong with her health. Initially, doctors thought it might be liver cancer. Gary let Roger Magowitz know what was going on after Roger had asked him to chair the Foundation’s annual fundraising event in Orlando in May of that year. Gary wasn’t sure he could attend because of Annette’s health. Roger told him Annette needed a second opinion and immediately referred Gary to Dr. Von Hoff. Dr. Von Hoff connected Gary, a resident of Charlotte, North Carolina, to a liver specialist in Dallas.
Gary was able to get an appointment for Annette very quickly, and in early May of that year, she underwent surgery. Doctors determined she did not have cancer and that her liver condition was far less serious and could be treated. She could then be monitored to make sure the condition didn’t recur. Today, she feels fine and has a clean bill of health.
That amazing turn of events allowed Gary and Annette to attend the fundraising event in Orlando after all. “That changed everything,” Gary said. “I was still able to go to the event and speak to those in attendance.”
Speaking His Truth, Making A Value Difference
Gary decided he wasn’t going to simply speak from the stage at the fundraising dinner. He was going to walk among those in attendance and try to speak directly to as many people as he could. First, he stopped at Roger’s table, tapped Roger on the shoulder and in an imitation of Roger’s voice, thanked him for his invaluable help. Then, Gary tapped Dr. Von Hoff on the shoulder. “You found the surgeons who saved my wife’s life,” he told Dr. Von Hoff.
Then, Gary turned his attention to the pancreatic cancer survivors in the room. He asked them all to stand and be recognized. No speaker before at a Seena Magowitz event had walked into the audience in the hopes of connecting memorably with the attendees.After that speech, later in 2014, Gary spoke at a national sales conference for the combined manufacturers. He challenged the attendees to a contest to see which team—Serta or Simmons—could raise more money for the Seena Magowitz Foundation and its mission of funding pancreatic cancer research. Gary explained why a disease this deadly is often top of mind for him. “More than 55,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with pancreatic cancer every year,” he said, “and more than 44,000 of them die from it every year. We have to figure out how to beat it.”
At that national sales meeting, Gary learned that a top sales professional with the company had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just two days before the meeting. That prompted Gary to contact Roger, and Roger contacted the patient and put the patient in touch with Dr. Von Hoff.
The patient flew from his hometown in Florida to Phoenix to see Dr. Von Hoff. The patient was placed on a treatment regimen and today, he is cancer-free. “Had Gary not issued that challenge on behalf of the Seena Magowitz Foundation,” Roger said, “it’s possible he might not have learned of the patient’s diagnosis in as timely a fashion and the patient might not have connected with Dr. Von Hoff at the time he did to receive life-saving treatment. I am so grateful that Gary made appealing for donations to the Seena Magowitz Foundation a priority before he retired.”
The challenge Gary issued to the Serta and Simmons teams at that sales meeting resulted in a $600,000 donation to the Seena Magowitz Foundation—presented at the next Foundation fundraising event in May of 2015. “We were able to surprise Roger,” Gary said.
The sales representative who was treated by Dr. Von Hoff was healthy enough to attend the event as well. Gary stood beside him during his speech and lauded his and his wife’s courage and determination. “People in the audience started to cry,” Gary said. “It was an emotional moment. I think we all realized that each of us has the opportunity to help people if we simply get involved with a cause. That’s the opportunity the Seena Magowitz Foundation has brought to the world.”
Gary continues to generously support the Foundation. “This effort is so important,” he emphasized. “And helping the patients and the researchers is up to all of us. As Roger likes to say, ‘If not us, who?’ This disease is becoming more prevalent. We’ve got to find a cure.”