At the Jimmy Fund, tragic loss of Stacy and Tim Wakefield felt deeply: Buckley

BOSTON — A few weeks before Christmas this past December, Stacy Wakefield placed a call to the Jimmy Fund Clinic at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute to make it known that an important Wakefield family tradition was going to continue.

For years, Stacy and her husband, former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield, would make an annual Christmastime visit to Boston’s renowned center for research and treatment for pediatric cancers, handing out gifts to the kids, maybe talking some baseball, but always offering hope and encouragement. It was one of the many Jimmy Fund-related activities that dotted Tim and Stacy’s calendar over the years. Tim, in fact, had signed on as honorary chairman of the Jimmy Fund as his playing career was winding down. When Tim and Stacy started raising a family, Brianna and Trevor joined the act.

This time would be different. Tim Wakefield, the graceful knuckleballer who befuddled hitters and dazzled fans for nearly two decades, had died of brain cancer on October 1. He was 57. And Stacy, too, was waging her own battle with cancer, the details of her diagnosis unknown to most people outside the Red Sox/Jimmy Fund family.

Yet here it was, Christmastime, and Stacy Wakefield was on the phone with Lisa Scherber, the longtime director of patient and family programs at the Jimmy Fund Clinic. Stacy would be there, accompanied by Brianna, by now a veteran of these events herself.

“Stacy was not in a great place physically,” Scherber said. “She sort of stayed in front of the clinic, sitting down. And I took Brianna around. All I could think of was how proud Stacy was of Brianna.”

On Wednesday, the Red Sox released a statement from the Wakefield family announcing that Stacy had died earlier in the day. “The loss is unimaginable, especially in the wake of losing Tim just under five months ago,” the family said. “Our hearts are beyond broken.”

As are our own hearts. By all accounts Stacy Wakefield was a monument to teamwork, not just in terms of raising a family but also sharing in her husband’s long, tireless commitment to the Jimmy Fund. If we outsiders knew anything about her, that was it, right there: When Tim signed up as a Jimmy Fund supporter, Stacy signed up right along with him. For keeps.

“She was a Mama Bear,” Lisa said. “There’s no other way to describe her. She tried to teach their kids how to live with love, and do things for other people. What they did for us at the Dana-Farber and the Jimmy Fund Clinic is immeasurable.”

It’s hard to grasp the sorrow of these two Boston heroes being swept away by a disease they had worked so hard to beat. Tim was the famous baseball player, sure, but together they were two people of sufficient means to make possible a lifetime of leisurely, high-end pursuits. And yet they did so much that never gained public notice; as recently as this past September, on the night before he died, Tim called Lisa Scherber to say the family would be taking part in the annual Jimmy Fund walk the next day.

“The two of them, both dealing with health issues, were going to participate,” Scherber said. “They wanted to be strong for everyone else. It was amazing.”

The next morning, Stacy texted that Tim had taken a turn for the worse and that they were on the way to the hospital.

We’re not talking photo ops and autograph signings here. We’re talking about commitment, about two people doing genuine work, and under dire circumstances. Again: The night before he died, Tim Wakefield was planning to take part in the Jimmy Fund Walk. And with her own health now in peril, Stacy Wakefield, accompanied by daughter Brianna, stoked the fires of an annual family Christmas tradition.

“Whatever we asked of them, they did it,” Scherber said. “And then they’d surprise us with their own thoughts and ideas.

“They just did it together and it was really cool to see,” Scherber said. “Their goal was to help as many kids as they could. And later, when they were both in this situation, they didn’t stop.”

Tim Wakefield isn’t the first Red Sox player to make the Jimmy Fund part of his life. He won’t be the last. From the days when Boston had two big-league baseball teams, it was the city’s National League club, the Braves, that first brought the Jimmy Fund to our attention. When the Braves left town, the Red Sox adopted the Jimmy Fund. The great Ted Williams was a huge earlier supporter. In 1967, the pennant-winning “Impossible Dream” Red Sox voted a full World Series share to the Jimmy Fund. Later on, from Carl Yastrzemski to Brock Holt and beyond, Sox players stepped up to the Jimmy Fund’s plate. Roger Clemens, who last played for the Red Sox in 1996, still returns to Boston to make Jimmy Fund appearances, and he does so cheerfully.

As a consequence of Stacy Wakefield’s death — of cancer, no less — we are being educated, or perhaps reminded, about the countless contributions that are made to society by the family members of our sports stars. We can only imagine the emotions Brianna Wakefield was feeling this past September as she toured the Jimmy Fund Clinic, handing out gifts to cancer-stricken children, her father having died from this terrible disease only a few months earlier, her mother, sitting out front, herself a cancer patient.

“Brianna used to come in during Christmastime with Stacy and Tim when she was just a small child, and she’d follow her parents around, giving out presents to the kids,” Lisa Scherber said. “I’d watch her every year. She grew up doing this, and she loved it. Seeing how proud Stacy and Tim were of her was just beautiful.”

The work Tim and Stacy Wakefield did for the Jimmy Fund continues.

(Top photo of Stacy and Tim Wakefield in 2020: Kelvin Ma / MediaNews Group / Boston Herald via Getty Images)

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