Friends of UW President Working to Ease Burden of Families With Cancer

Health is one of those things in life many people don’t worry about until they encounter a problem with it. For Debbie Cray, the incredible health of her family has been a blessing she’s thankful for everyday. Aside from a few broken bones, she jokes, they have not had any health concerns.  Rather than simply be grateful and move on, Cray decided to help those less fortunate than her family in an effort to make their lives easier in a direct way.

            After six years of serving on the board of Friends of UW Hospital and Clinics, Cray currently serves as the president of the organization. Friends helps to support services and programs that would not be otherwise financially possible. The organization works to meet specific needs of individuals and their families struggling with illness. Although Cray’s position is one of leadership, Cray most enjoys the hands-on tasks. She believes “the most rewarding work is when I roll up my sleeves and help plan, organize and execute our many successful fundraising events.” Cray works on numerous events for Friends, from flower sales and golf outings to vendor sales and public art auctions.

            Friends also hosts two unique events that Cray feels especially close to, as she is able to see the impact her work has at a closer level. The Love Lights ceremony, which helps families cope with the loss of a loved one, and the biennial Gala benefitting the American Family Children’s Hospital both give her that opportunity. “It’s a very fulfilling way to connect with the patients and families at the hospitals,” she says.

            Cray has seen first hand the devastating effects cancer has on families on visits to the hospital. Her decision to volunteer and give back through Friends was an easy one for her after seeing how completely illness and injury can consume a family. Cray believes the work she does can help ease a family’s burden when they have used all their strength, energy, resources and time in the fight to get healthy.

            For Cray, Friends helps provide a safety net for the patients and families of UW Hospital and Clinic and she strongly believes everyone should give Friends a try. “We all have a responsibility to support the things that are important to the well being of the community,” she states.

Cray remembers how Friends recently purchased a mattress for a child who was leaving the hospital to go home, but did not have a bed there to sleep on. Simple acts that relieve the stress parents feel over the reality of dealing with their child’s illness make everything worthwhile for Cray. “If our efforts help improve the lives of patients and relieve some of their stress, we’re caring for our fellow Madisonians and making this a better place to live.”

Friends of UW’s first biennial gala of the year, “Get in the Game,” is on Saturday, February 18, 2012 at 5:30p at the Monona Terrace. Tickets are available online at

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