When Christopher Reeve died, there was a phenomenal amount of media awareness and public sympathy. Having Goldberg’s plan and Dana Reeve’s leadership enabled the foundation to put the message out there that it was indeed vibrant. The organization’s Web site was flooded with an overwhelming number of comments, and it had the most online solicitations it’s ever experienced.
“We created a way to engage our various constituencies by asking them how they felt about [Reeve’s death], asking them to create sort of their own memorial comments and memorial spaces on our Web site and to continue to support the foundation,” Wilderotter says.
This outpouring of love, affection and support for the work that Reeve set out to accomplish fueled the staff and the board it had begun putting in place, building faith that the foundation was going to continue on. But it also was a time of some real organizational soul-searching, resulting in, among other things, a realization that it had perhaps relied too heavily on Reeve all those years.
“Chris was our chief fundraiser, our spokesperson, the person that lobbied on our behalf. We relied very heavily on him, with due reason,” Goldberg says. “He was our chairman of the board, but he really served as a day-to-day CEO. He had tremendous vision.”
Howley concurs: “His vision, his words were so inspirational to very basic scientists who go to their benches every day and are looking at things down at the cellular and molecular levels. It was Chris who I think really raised everyone’s vision and reminded us that, at the end of the day, whether it’s spinal cord injury or cancer or heart disease or diabetes, there are people waiting for science to deliver answers.”
Reeve’s passion inspired many to pick up where he left off. When he died, the advocacy community stepped up and formed a grassroots group, announcing that it had relied too much on Reeve and it was its turn to stand up and have its voice heard.