When Bob Mills was being wheeled into cancer surgery to treat malignant melanoma he had developed at 53, he did what many people in his situation do: he made a promise to God. He promised that if he got through that ordeal, he would spend the rest of his life helping others with their fight against cancer. Not only did he make this promise though, he quantified it. He promised that whatever salary he made, he would give at least that much back to the fight. If you knew one thing about Bob, you'd know he is a man of his word.
Bob did survive, and true to his word, he began a fellowship for a medical student of hematology and oncology. He would hand-pick the recipient and would lay out only two conditions: that they stay and work in the greater Dayton area and that they dedicate a portion of their time to helping those who couldn't afford treatment.
Nine years after Bob won his battle with cancer, he would lose his wife of 40 years to metastatic cancer. As devastating as that was for him, just months later his 7 year old granddaughter, Ally, was diagnosed with Leukemia. It was then, in 2009, that Bob Mills refocused on taking on cancer head-on and took this fight to the next level. Bob says that while he didn't know how to mix chemicals or perform surgery to beat cancer, he did know how to organize, manage programs and raise money.
That year, he began raising money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's annual fund drive. The drive stated that if an individual raised $100,000 they could choose the program that this money would fund. Bob countered and got them to agree that for each $100.000 he raised he would be able to choose the programs. They agreed and Bob pulled out his Rolodex and started making calls. Bob took the four pillars he has used to build two successful businesses and applied them to his fundraising efforts: plan, organize, execute and control. His efforts paid off with the single highest fundraising effort in the history of the drive. In just 10 weeks, Bob raised $430,507 and got to choose four programs that this money would go to. In Bob's mind, this allowed him to keep the money local and help the citizens of his community.
The following year, Bob was contacted by the American Cancer Society to help them raise money by hosting a local Gala. He agreed, but again found that while the money raised was definitely going to good causes, much of it was leaving the community. It was then that Bob got the idea to start his own event. The result was the Gala of Hope.
The Gala of Hope is a wonderful biennial event which is a major highlight on the regional social calendar. Bob lines up huge corporate sponsorship for the Gala, and also holds a live auction and a silent one. In 2014, in just one night, the event brought in $1.1 million. In 2016, they raised $1.3 million. In total, the Gala of Hope has raised over $6 million dollars to fight cancer in the greater Dayton area.
Bob has a committee which oversees how the money is distributed, and it goes to some amazing programs in the community. These programs attempt to achieve three goals: support the treatment of patients, provide support for families and caregivers and fund and support research initiatives. These funds support programs like the Pink Ribbon Girls who provide rides, meals and house cleaning to women undergoing cancer treatment. Another of my favorites is Together We Fight, which provides recently diagnosed children with care-packages containing games and playing cards for them and gas cards and meal vouchers for their families. Of the many programs Gala of Hope supports, Bob is most proud of the $2.5 million he has been able to donate to provide much needed equipment to the oncology ward of the local children's hospital.
In addition to his work fighting cancer and organizing the Gala of Hope, Bob also works with several other charities in the community. In 2007, friends of Bob lost their son Michael and enlisted Bob's help to try and set up a charity to honor his memory. Michael had devoted his 37 years on this planet to helping others, especially children. To remember him, his parents built Michael's House, a safe-house for victims of child abuse. Bob helped find a donor for the land for this project and donated the building materials himself. Today, Michael's House provides a coordinated, comprehensive response to help abused children in Greene County. In addition, Bob has his own family charitable foundation: the Mills Family Foundation. This foundation helps provide support to women and children in abusive situations.
I had the great pleasure to sit down with Bob Mills this week at his office in Beavercreek to hear these stories and more. In addition to his philanthropy work, he manages to run his two businesses and still spend time with his 8 grandchildren. Ally, by the way, is doing just fine. Although he has run the most successful charity events in the history of the region and raised millions of dollars, he is an incredibly humble man and talks about how much he enjoys eating lunch with his employees and playing with his grandchildren. He told me that in his early years, when he worked 13 different jobs while fighting his way through college, he made decisions based too often on his own personal finances. With the experiences that life has thrown at him, he now tries to think of what good he can do with the finances he has and the time he has left.
Bob Mills is a pillar of his community. He showed me how much impact one person can truly have when they have the right motivation and the right determination. I believe that God usually forgives people when they don't make good on promises made when faced with their own mortality. But when Bob Mills made a promise to God, he followed through with it and continues to follow through with it today. He is truly an inspiration. May we all do what good we can with what time we have.
Bob Mills was named the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Man of the Year (2009), the American Cancer Society Man of the Year (2010) and was recently awarded the Dayton Citizens Legion of Honor Award. If you want to see the wonderful programs being supported by the Gala of Hope, or to make a donation to their wonderful cause, visit their website HERE.