Doug Smith: A Lesson in Grace

In 2004, while undergoing routine tests at another facility, Doug Smith was diagnosed with a slow-developing but incurable form of chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). “I was 58 years old at the time and considered myself to be in excellent health,” he recalls. Although he still felt fine, he resigned from his job as CEO of Best Brands Corporation. “For the first time, I had a blank calendar and went from using all of my talents” to having nothing to do. As a result, he fell into a state of depression.

However, during the 12-hour car trip back to his home in Columbus, Doug took stock of his life, concluding that he would need five things to cope with the disease: grace, gratitude, courage, peace and time. And it was this realization that allowed him to overcome his depression and develop a revitalized second career as a speaker, author and teacher on the choices that can lead to happiness and the traps that can prevent it. Along with creating a website,, dedicated to helping individuals live and lead abundantly, he has also written a book, Call Me Mr. Lucky: Remembering the Past with Peace, Anticipating the Future with Confidence and Living in the Present with Joy.

“One of the keys to happiness is altruism,” he observes. So a few months after the initial diagnosis, he and Phyllis, his wife of more than 40 years, were on their way to hear John C. Byrd, MD, a CLL expert at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute (OSUCCC – James), speak at a dinner. “I suggested that we make a donation to support Dr. Byrd’s research. Although I was thinking a few thousand dollars, Phyllis responded that we should give a million. I nearly drove off the road” in shock.

But thanks to matching contributions from friends, family and colleagues, along with proceeds from Doug’s new career as a writer and speaker, Phyllis and he have not only raised more than $1.5 million to support Dr. Byrd’s research, but they also plan to donate another million in the future. Additionally, Doug requests that all of his speaking fees be directed to either the OSUCCC – James or the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Observes Doug, “Phyllis pointed out – and rightly – that perhaps, rather than waiting until ‘The horse was out of the barn,’ so to speak, and then giving, why not do so now?” so that along with others Doug could reap the benefits of the research.

Donations such as the Smiths’ “are instrumental in funding cutting-edge research,” comments Byrd, director of the Division of Hematology at The James. Because National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding has dropped in the past few years for almost all research facilities, “Philanthropy plays an even more vital role in identifying new and innovative drugs.” For example, ibrutinib, which was initially considered risky in treating CLL a few years ago and whose research was funded privately at The James, just received an NIH/National Cancer Institute (NCI) grant to move it toward phase III trials and final testing.

And Doug is still going strong, with a full speaking and writing schedule. “I have done very well with treatment, thanks to The James.” He praises the hospital’s positive outlook, which dovetails with his personal philosophy. “They are professional, yet make you feel at home.”

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