Pat Bondurant is an honoree at 3rd annual ‘A Night In’ gala

St. Jude 2019 honoree of the Letitia Frye Humanitarian Award recipient, Pat Bondurant (Submitted photo)

Everything has come full circle for Pat Bondurant whose life foreshadowed premonitions from charitable giving to cherishing life.

After celebrating her birthday on March 17, the St. Jude 2019 honoree of the Letitia Frye Humanitarian Award will be recognized at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s third annual “St. Jude Presents: A Night In” gala Friday, April 5 at The Clayton House in Old Town Scottsdale.

In addition to honoring Mrs. Bondurant for chairing, volunteering and donating her time and resources to help raise millions of dollars for hundreds of charities, the event will highlight a destination outside the state while uniting Valley residents, philanthropists and humanitarians.

Paying tribute to Alabama and its “southern charm,” the cocktail-attire event, “St. Jude Presents: A Night in the Crimson Tide,” features a culinary experience with signature cocktails, auctions, entertainment and special guest appearances from a St. Jude patient, in addition to honoring the Letitia Frye Humanitarian Award recipient.

Co-chairs of the event are Camerone Parker-McCulloch — model, television personality and humanitarian — and Valley philanthropist Martha Martin, according to the release.

The night’s proceeds will aim to help St. Jude families in never receiving a bill for treatment, travel, housing or food.

“To be selected as the 2019 St. Jude honoree is the most incredible and humbling surprise for me,” said Ms. Bondurant in a prepared statement. “Children of all walks of life have pulled at my heart since I was a young teenager. My personal gratification in helping all children in need is to privately know that I have never stood on the sidelines when a child needed me.

“All children around the world need to hear the simple, sincere words, ‘Everything is going to be okay’ and ‘I will help you,’” said Mrs. Bondurant, who is president and CEO of the Bob Bondurant School of High-Performance Driving/Bondurant Racing School.

Mrs. Bondurant shared her life story during a recent interview to offer insight on how she became a philanthropist involved with her husband’s 51-year-old, “world famous” driving school that greatly contributes to the community.

*How long have you been a supporter of St. Jude?

There were a few exciting things happening in Memphis in 1955.

First, I was born on March 17th on St. Patrick’s Day in St Joseph’s Hospital to the thrill of my Irish Grandfather, nicknamed “BB,” who insisted my mother name me Patricia so he could call me St. Patty. The family story goes like this: he carried me around the hospital on a green, satin pillow telling all the nuns that I was born on the 17th of Ireland!

Second, the Bishop of Memphis had convinced famous entertainer Danny Thomas, to build St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in his hometown of Memphis. This big announcement was highly publicized because of now famous Danny Thomas’s promise to God that if he could find successful work in the entertainment business to feed his family, then he would promise to build a shrine to St. Jude, the patron saint of lost causes. His promise was to build a general hospital for children, but the global need for a children’s research hospital took center stage.

So it was to be, in 1955, the announcement that St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was to be built in Memphis, Tennessee. The incredible buildup of this one-of-a-kind hospital was constantly in the press in Memphis and Danny Thomas left a huge impression with my grandfather “BB.” As the family story goes, my grandfather BB was the first family member to creatively raise funds for a charity besides the church collection basket. He did his part in money collection jars at his dry cleaners on St. Patrick’s Day week every year since I was born, in my honor.

Now, one of the biggest highlights growing up in Memphis was to greet the Popsicle man in his round, musical cart rolling through the neighborhood, playing his hypnotic, tinkling tune that announced his highly- anticipated arrival. Our magical Popsicle man, all dressed in white, topped off with his white, pointy-hat that had colorful dots on the edges. He had a jar in his hand for St. Jude and asked us kids if we wanted to give up our Popsicle money that day to help build the children’s hospital. Much to the shock of the Popsicle man, about 10 kids all in unison said, “Nooooooo!”

It was 1960, and I was five years old. This request completely confused me. Why on earth did he want our Popsicle money to go in his jar? I thought he must have taken my grandfather’s jar from the cleaners and that completely confused me. Did the Popsicle man know BB??

That night at dinner, my brothers were loudly and all at once telling my dad, a lieutenant on the Memphis Police Force, about the ‘Popsicle’ man trying to take all the kids’ money for some kids’ hospital. My dad said it was the right thing to do for charity. He told us that BB has jars at his dry cleaners for that same kids’ hospital, and next time we are asked to give up our Popsicle money we always need to give to charity. That speech was worse than hearing ‘Eat your peas. They’re good for you too!’

So growing up, I always saw St. Jude jars on store counters and did my duty by putting my little coins in those jars. I always thought BB invented that idea for me and it always tugs at me when I see anything for St. Jude because of his promise every St. Patrick’s Day in my honor.

The opening of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was in 1962. We had moved away from Memphis by then, and it was the year my fabulous BB suddenly, unexpectedly died in his sleep. So you can imagine the heart connection I have with St. Jude.

*Why are your philanthropic efforts important?

My philanthropic efforts come from a very life-changing car accident. It was a cold, dark, Sunday afternoon in January 1973 when I was 17 years old. I was driving back home in torrential downpour, when my mustang hydroplaned and crashed, and I was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. In a blink, I was on the other side, where I saw others in the process of seeing their life reviews on large TV screens.

The impact of seeing those deceased people standing there, having to face the heartbreaking reality that very few seized the opportunity to help those in need while here on earth. Hurting other people, and especially not helping those in need, seemed to be the greatest regret for those who were crossing over; not helping others in need and what a privilege it would have been to have done more for others. It left such an impact on me that, although only 17, I already had the heart to help others, especially children. And, when I returned, it stayed with me and made me step it up even more.

*What motivates/inspires you?

It was a very special and interesting experience visiting and touring St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Their success rate of finding cures for childhood disease is at an incredible success rate. What I learned during my visit is how often never-before-seen, new diseases are popping up. And, a new team has to experiment new drugs on these small, new patients, whose only hope of survival is to agree to be a research candidate. St. Jude is often a family’s last hope.

My heart wanted to gather them up in a big blanket and tell them to not be afraid of dying. To give hope and say, “I’ve seen heaven, and it is wonderful to go back home.” But, you can’t, because they are children and their parents want them to fight for their lives so they can run out one day to greet the neighborhood ‘Popsicle man’ and know what it’s like to be a healthy kid again. I get it, I would want the same if my kids were sick.

So yes, philanthropy from every walk of life, with a pure heart, is how you receive the jewels in your heavenly crown. I promise that you will not ever regret helping those in need, ever.

*What are some other charities you help?

So, now you know why it means so much to me to give. Although we are narrowing it down after nine years, we have averaged 75-to-100 charities a year at the Bondurant School. We’ve offered free courses for various causes, from the David Fosters annual children’s gala in Canada to our local Childhelp gala, with our driving course bringing up to $85,000 for many different charities. We do lean towards the children and animal charity worlds. We have been supportive of Brenda and Kurt Warner’s Treasure House from its beginnings.

I have accepted a role on the PTSD Foundation Of Arizona to support our vets and first responders. Our goal is to eventually reach into the incredibly under-supported PTSD rape victims’ needs. This area is likely to consume my time, and I am asking for my Paradise Valley neighbors to please step up and help us grow this nonprofit organization to save these lives…saving our soldiers from committing wartime suicide because no one helped them when they could not help themselves.

*What is the one thing you would like to instill in others, especially youth?

It’s so sad seeing the staggering, high number of youth suicides. It really hurts my heart. I think our youth should visit places like St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where children are clinging to nurses and their parents in order to take the experimental medication, truly fighting to just stay alive another day. Getting our youth involved in helping others in need, is so healing and powerful.

That’s how we are designed, to feel compassion to make us do great things. Young kids need to find an avenue to have a heart connection in this day of technology that eliminates human soul connections. I encourage my fellow Paradise Valley neighbors to visit animal shelters and see first-hand what an appreciative soul looks like. Giving of your time, of your ‘self’ is more powerful medicine for the heart than any medication on the market.

*What does your family consist of?

My local family consists of my incredible world-champion race car driver husband Bob Bondurant; my beautiful daughter the former Miss Teen Arizona Meagan Radigan and her husband, Jamie. My siblings and families are scattered all over the U.S. and we are planning our next reunion in Huntsville, Alabama this May. Looking forward to eating loads of fried okra, catfish, hush puppies, sweet tea and peach cobbler with hand-churned vanilla ice cream melted on top!

*How long have you lived in Paradise Valley and are you an Arizona native?

In 2001, the doctors in Seattle and Portland discovered my severe life-threatening mold allergy and sent me to the desert. I was married to Ray Hickey, owner of the Tidewater Barge Lines, the largest petroleum hauler in the U.S. The trips back and forth from Portland to Scottsdale took its toll on our relationship. He developed a large tumor on his lung and just refused to move to the desert to get out of the dampness. He eventually died, sadly from lung complications, but this desert absolutely saved my life.

At first, I lived in Sedona for two years, co-owned and founded Channel 18 Sedona Now Network and with my health so improved, bought my home in Paradise Valley in July of 2003. We are now looking to finally downsize and hoping to see more options to live in Paradise Valley, other than our 6,800-square-foot home on a 2 1/4-acre lot!

We’d really like to find some options to have quality patio homes available so we can remain in Paradise Valley and not leave our neighbors. Bob and I married nine years ago. He gave up his man cave in the Foothills and moved into my Paradise Valley dreamy Italian-influenced home, designed by the multi-award winning ASID designer Ernesto Garcia. We are blessed; and we truly enjoy our lives and the opportunity to serve our community’s needs through charitable giving, and to get an occasional smile from God.

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