Mary Alice inspired all at Christmas

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 14, 2008

Mary Alice loved Christmas. It was her time to shine. My dad’s second wife looked toward Christmas more than anyone else I have ever known. Christmas Eve, to be exact, was her night. She’d serve enough food for the 10th Mountain Division and each year the house would be overflowing with friends and family. At night, she’d organize the gift exchange, always changing into pajamas before opening the first present.

To see Jim Valvano’s memorable speech, click here.

It’s been more than four years since Mary Alice Murphy died of cancer and each year when Christmas rolls around, a part of myself longs for the warmth of the house on Second Street.

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The memories all came back on Tuesday night when the greatest speech I’ve ever seen aired again for the umpteenth time. That speech by dying basketball coach Jim Valvano has been an inspiration to me before, when talking about Eric Smith of Vicksburg, the most courageous youngster I have ever met. Eric also succumbed to the dreaded disease known as cancer. He was 16 years old and had put up a long fight, inspiring not just to me, but everyone lucky enough to have met him.

Cancer will claim nearly 8 million lives this year and the World Heath Organization projects that in less than a decade cancer will overtake heart disease as the world’s leading killer. Fifteen years ago, Valvano earned the first ESPN Arthur Ashe Courage Award. He had tumors all over his body. He had a death sentence.

He made the audience laugh before crying. He made us dive deep inside our souls. Waking up on the wrong side of the bed seemed so trivial after watching this man stand erect at the lectern. Refusing to let cancer win, Valvano urged everyone to enjoy life and his most poignant message — “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”

Less than two months later Valvano died. His foundation, the Jimmy V Foundation for Cancer Research, has raised in excess of $80 million to help kick this disease forever. If you have never seen Jimmy V’s speech, I implore you to watch it.

Jimmy V will reinvigorate your zest for life even as you get peppered with bad news daily. He’ll help you remember that simply waking up each morning is a gift. No one is immune to problems, it’s how you react that shows the soul of a person.

Nowhere is that more evident than the 10 minutes Jimmy V talked. He had fought and fought and fought some more even though his time was running out. “It may not save my life,” he said of the new foundation for cancer research. “It may save my children’s lives. It may save someone you love.”

Christmas is a time of year when life gets put into perspective. Enjoy the holidays with those you love. Help those you do not know. And remember no matter how bad things can get, as long as you wake up in the morning, anything can be overcome.

As long as you live, don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.


Sean P. Murphy is Web editor of The Vicksburg Post. Write to him at Box 821668, Vicksburg, MS 39182, or e-mail