In Spanish folklore, the bat is a symbol of good luck, long life and family unity. It’s the perfect logo for Bacardi rum, says fourth-generation family member Jorge Bacardi.
“There are over 600 people in the family now, but we’re keen on maintaining those philosophies. It’s still a family-owned company and we hope to keep it that way,” he said.
Those values also easily apply to Bacardi himself, as he and his wife Leslie have given generously toward curing cancer and caring for patients, most recently establishing the Caridad Bolivar Bacardi Research and Fellowship Training Fund in the Department of Otolaryngology in honor of his mother.
“I’m hoping for a light at the end of the tunnel. A bit of progress in the realm of eradication of cancer. Although cancer is a chameleon, I’m afraid. As soon as we figure something out, something else changes. But I wanted to establish some sort of platform to help people through it,” he said.
Bacardi, a resident of Nassau in the Bahamas, learned about Vanderbilt’s work in head and neck cancer through Ron Eavey, M.D., Guy M. Maness Professor and chair of Otolaryngology. They first met at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary, where Eavey was a resident while Bacardi had sinus surgery.
“He took all the gauze out of my sinuses after surgery. He must have pulled out a mile of the stuff. We bonded over that experience and developed a strong relationship over the years,” Bacardi said. “He helped us establish a fund at Mass Eye and Ear, and later when he suggested something at Vanderbilt, I readily agreed.”
Eavey said the Bacardi gift is critical given today’s federal funding climate, and its flexibility for both research and training purposes has already been fruitful. Graduate student Liz Simonik received support from the Bacardi fund when another grant ended, and has been able to continue what Eavey calls “fascinating research.” Simonik has used the Head and Neck Cancer Biorepository to investigate a gene implicated in childhood leukemia that is also present in over half of head and neck cancers.
“Because of the goodness of Jorge’s heart, Liz can continue her research and these unknown patients are being cared about, and some will even be cured,” Eavey said. — Leslie Hill