Despite being in a town of just over 4,000 people, the Thomasville Volunteer Fire Department (TVFD) has raised over $9,600 for this year’s Pink Ribbon Project to support breast cancer research in Alabama—more than any other participating department. The project raises funds and awareness for breast cancer research through local fire department t-shirt sales and all proceeds support the BCRFA.
Thomasville Volunteer Fire Department’s tremendous fundraising success is thanks in large part to one man: Roy Waite. Waite is the Assistant Chief of the TVFD, a city council member, and the Emergency Management Director for Clarke County Alabama. He has been a nurse for over 27 years, a paramedic for 28 years, and a firefighter for 36 years.
But Waite’s lifelong dedication to his community hasn’t quelled his heart for service. When his friend Rachael Reed Williams lost her battle with breast cancer in early 2021, he wanted to do something to honor her memory.
“Rachael was a very special young lady,” said Waite. “I knew her since elementary school— for at least 45 or 50 years. When she passed away, her family asked people to make a donation to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama instead of sending flowers. Since I was the one collecting the money from everyone, I looked the organization up. I read about the history of the BCRFA partnering with fire departments [for the Pink Ribbon Project] and I wanted to get TVFD involved.”
The Thomasville Volunteer Fire Department is fairly large with over 40 members. When Waite proposed his idea about partnering with the BCRFA, he was thrilled at the positive response.
“Everyone jumped on board right away,” recalled Waite. “They said, ‘Yes absolutely let’s do it.’”
As so often is the case, other firefighters had connections to people with breast cancer too. “The wife of one of our firemen currently has breast cancer,” said Waite. “She was so excited to hear we were doing this project.”
Waite explains that from his fire department’s standpoint, they are involved for the survivors and all those currently dealing with breast cancer.
“I would find it very difficult to think of someone I know that hasn’t been touched in some way by breast cancer,” said Waite. “Whether it’s their mother or their daughter or a family member or close friend—we all know someone who has either died from breast cancer or survived breast cancer, or is currently going through treatments.”
Waite’s passion for the cause coupled with his personal and professional connections essentially rallied all of Thomasville behind the cause.
“The City of Thomasville is participating in this with us as well. We have a strong connection because I’m on the city council, our mayor is a volunteer with the fire department, and so is another city council member. The Chamber of Commerce is on board too. We’ve got banks, we’ve got restaurants. Our local radio station is going to purchase shirts and do a giveaway and Wal-Mart is letting us sell them in front of one of their stores. The community is really jumping in behind it.”
Waite’s efforts have even led to some t-shirt sales outside of Thomasville. “I posted about it to my personal Facebook and on the fire department’s page so we’ve been mailing t-shirts all over,” said Waite.
Rachael’s husband saw Waite’s post too. “He called me and said, ‘Wow. I know why you are doing this. You may never tell anyone that it’s partly because of her, but I know it is.”
Waite is quick to add that while his support of the BCRFA began because of Rachael, it continues because he understands the value of breast cancer research in eradicating the disease.
“The community always supports us and we feel like this is a way for us to turn around and support the community. We want to do our best to advance the research so hopefully one day we will come up with a cure.”
Have a story to share about breast cancer research? Visit our 25 for Research portal to share your story or nominate someone today. Our 25 for Research series celebrates the 25th anniversary of the BCRFA by sharing 25 unique stories about the impact of research from across the state.