65 Roses & Cystic Fibrosis

"65 Roses" has been connected to Cystic Fibrosis (CF) since the 1950s, when a little boy misheard his mother's telephone conversation. Mary Weiss is the mother of three boys, all born with CF. She told the following story to Cystic Fibrosis Australia in 2012, about how 65 Roses came to represent cystic fibrosis.

The Weiss brothers (left to right) Richard, 5; Arthur, 7 and Anthony, 16 months. Photo courtesy of Mary G. Weiss.

I moved from Montreal to Palm Beach, Florida in 1965 soon after my three beloved sons had been diagnosed as having cystic fibrosis. It was described as ‘the most serious lung damaging disease of children’. The winters in Montreal are horrendous and would have limited their activities and endangered their health. I had also learned that salt air was good for CF patients so I moved to a tropical area and lived on the ocean for over 30 years.

Soon after moving here I learned that philanthropy is a way of life here. People are extremely generous and support many causes so I thought, ‘I'll tell them about CF and hope to raise money to fund research’. I used EVERY opportunity to speak to people about CF.

I knew that to raise money for CF we would have to educate the community. Relatively little was known about it in the 60s. So, I picked up the Yellow Pages and called EVERY civic and fraternal organisation in the area. Each time I'd say: "This Mary Weiss from the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. I would like to make a presentation”.

After making a zillion calls my young son Richard came into my room. He was four at the time. In the sweet voice of a young child he said, "Mommy, I know what you are working for." I was dumbfounded...he didn't know he had CF! I said to him, "Sweetheart, what am I working for?” He answered sweetly, "You're working for Sixty-Five Roses."

I took him in my arms, held close and said, "Yes Ricky, I'm working for Sixty-Five Roses".

I had been working with friends and other young mothers, who knew Ricky and my other sons, and at a meeting we were trying to come up with a theme for our first event. Nothing came to mind. In a moment of stillness I told them the story. They IMMEDIATELY said, "That's it. That’s our theme".

Our 44th Annual Sixty-Five Roses Gala is scheduled for Saturday January 14, 2012. Over the years we have raised over $11,000,000!

I often say that only a child could turn something as horrible as cystic fibrosis into something as beautiful as Sixty-Five Roses...I also like to say that I look forward to the day that cystic fibrosis is relegated to books of cured diseases but that children and roses continue to bloom.

Richard was 4 years old when he was diagnosed. The doctor told my husband and me to: "Take him home, play with him, enjoy him...he won't live to be older than 8 or 9."

In August 2012, Richard celebrated his 50th birthday, a testament to the hard work of people like Mary, who have gone above and beyond to improve the research and services available to people with CF. Sadly, Richard lost his battle with CF in early 2014, aged 52. His brother Arthur passed away aged 36, in 1996. It's the memory of people like Richard, Arthur, and many others lost to CF, that drive organisations all around world to work hard to put an end to this condition.

65 Roses: A Cystic Fibrosis Story tells the story of Jordan, a little girl who lives with CF.

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