Where it began
As the Terri Brodeur Foundation celebrates its milestones, we are taking a look back and talking with those who helped get the foundation started and who have continued to support its mission over the years of raising money and designating every dollar donated toward breast cancer research. This year marks the 15th anniversary of TBF, which was established in February 2006. We held our first walking marathon fundraiser in October 2006 and this year we are celebrating our 16th walk.
She’s one of the original 13.
Becky Lillie was among the friends and colleagues from Pfizer Inc. who Norma Logan invited to her living room more than 15 years ago to pitch an idea for a new organization that would give 100 percent of fundraising dollars to breast cancer research. The Terri Brodeur Breast Cancer Foundation, now called the Terri Brodeur Foundation, would operate with volunteers and sponsorship money, Logan told the group. The finances would be transparent and easy to find so anyone could see where and how the donations were being spent.
“I remember it well,” said Lillie during an interview at her home in Niantic describing how Logan’s living room was filled with white folding chairs set up like a town meeting. Logan didn’t tell her friends why she had called them, and they wondered what was about to happen.
“Then Norma got up there,” Lillie said.
Lillie knew Logan from Pfizer and got to know many of those in the room as they supported Logan in her battle against breast cancer. Most had walked in marathons in New York and Boston with Logan to raise money and awareness for breast cancer. Logan told them she wanted to create a new foundation, and that she, and co-founder Sandy Maniscalco, also a co-worker at Pfizer and a friend, needed a little help from their friends.
“I said, ‘I’m in,’” Lillie recalled. And everyone else in the room agreed to help too.
Logan was disillusioned when she discovered that about 40 percent of the roughly $200,000 she and her friends had raised during the previous two years for other fundraising groups had gone to overhead expenses. She had a better idea.
“Norma was shattered by that,” Lillie said. “You could hear it in her voice.”
So Logan convinced those in the living room to help her. Those she brought together would be her leadership team. She had thought of all the details and assigned her friends to various jobs – Lillie was in charge of marketing, recruiting, and sponsorships.
Lillie said everyone wanted to name the foundation after Logan but Logan didn’t want it to be about her. She proposed naming the fledgling organization in honor of a friend she had met while they were both going through breast cancer treatment. Terri Brodeur, a mother of three, was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer and eventually died from the disease in 2005. Brodeur’s husband, Tim, who also worked at Pfizer, was in the room too. No one argued with Logan, who died from breast cancer in 2006.
That first year the group formed a board of directors and organized the first Walk Across Southeastern Connecticut fundraising marathon. It attracted hundreds of participants who walked from Old Saybrook, where Terri Brodeur had lived, to Harkness Memorial State Park in Waterford.
Lillie was in charge of publicity and worked hard to make the walk successful. The day of the first walk she talked to the media, checked in on the pit stops, did traffic control, and cheered on walkers as they crossed the finish line. Lillie said she noticed butterflies flitting about during the early morning opening ceremonies in Old Saybrook. Logan loved butterflies, she said, getting emotional thinking about her friend and how passionate she was about helping to find a cure for breast cancer.
“She had a heart of gold. She’d do anything for anyone,” said Lillie, who recently retired from Alexion Pharmaceuticals where she was the chief human experiences officer. “She was so thoughtful.”
Lillie, who had a sister-in-law who died from breast cancer leaving behind a husband and three children aged 8, 10, and 12, said she’s amazed at what the foundation has been able to accomplish. She has either volunteered or walked with the Zen & Now wellness studio in East Lyme every year since the beginning, and helped organize a Researchers Symposium in 2017 at Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. Before Covid hit, she and other original members were starting to organize a Roaring ‘20s fundraiser. That’s been put on hold, for now, she said.
She’d like to raise even more than the $200,000 to $300,000 that is collected and turned into research grants each year. The board is bringing in new people with new ideas on expanding the walk, which ultimately means raising more money for research. Maybe organize some other fundraising events and recruit more volunteers, she said. The foundation is evolving and that’s a good thing, she said.
“I want to keep it going,” she said. “It’s done such amazing things.”
To date, TBF has raised more than $5.2 million and awarded 52 research grants.