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Founder of the Great American Smokeout dies knowing how much we appreciated him

​Does the name Arthur P. Mullaney Jr. ring a bell?

The Massachusetts man is credited with setting into motion an event, way back in 1971, that led to our Great American Smokeout.

Last week, Arthur’s daughter, Lynn, called NCIC. She wanted us to know that her father was dying, and she requested that someone from ACS write him a note for her to read to him. A Customer Response Service Request was created in Siebel and routed to Angel Davis Dooley, who manages all Customer Response inquiries in Massachusetts and other areas in the New England Region.

"After checking into this woman's story and realizing everything lined up, I knew we had to move quickly. I looped in Erin Nielsen, asking on a whim if Gary Reedy could send something to this volunteer acknowledging his efforts," explained Angel, a member of the Volunteer Care Team. "Not even 24 hours later, his daughter was sent an email from Renee Kelley, director, staff & volunteer communications, whose career at ACS started with GASO, but also Gary himself." 

In fact, Arthur, 81, died on Friday, Jan. 26. "Without the customer response SR process and the accountability built in with the Volunteer Care Team, Lynn’s inquiry may not have ever been responded to in time for her dad," noted Angel.

You can read his obituary here. The family asks that donations in his memory be made to the American Cancer Society.

"I feel fortunate to have played a part in his smiles during his last days," said Renee.

Gary wrote:

"Dear Arthur,

On behalf of everyone who has been or will be touched by cancer, thank you for your trailblazing commitment to challenging the status quo and bringing to life the groundbreaking 1970 movement—the Great American Smokeout.

Through your dedication to the cancer fight and partnership with the American Cancer Society, your legacy will forever be marked by the impact you made in helping to dramatically change Americans’ attitudes about smoking. Since Great American Smokeout went nationwide in 1977, significant changes have led to community programs and smoke-free laws that are now saving lives across the country. In fact, there have been dramatic changes in the way the public views tobacco advertising and tobacco use, and many public places and work areas are now smoke-free. In the past few decades, we have seen great strides in our understanding of nicotine addiction and how to help people quit.

Today, the American Cancer Society Great American Smokeout event is celebrated with rallies, parades, stunts, cessation resources, and even “cold turkey” menu items in schools, workplaces, main streets, and legislative halls throughout the US. What an incredible accomplishment. I can say without a doubt that you have left an indelible mark on this country and the world. It is only because of visionary volunteers like you that the American Cancer Society continues to save lives, celebrate lives, and lead the fight for a world without cancer. For that, I will be eternally grateful. Thank you again for your groundbreaking leadership through the Great American Smokeout movement.

In great appreciation,

Gary Reedy"

And, Renee wrote:

"Dear Mr. Mullaney,

Thanks to you, I am saving lives. In 1990 my grandmother called me to her bedside as she was dying of emphysema to tell me to never start smoking. I took her advice and never picked up the habit. In 1992, I graduated college and saw an advertisement for a job with the American Cancer Society. I applied and learned about you and the Great American Smokeout during my orientation. A year later I was planning for my first Great American Smokeout event. I had a committee led by a group of dedicated volunteers like yourself who had great ideas and wanted desperately to help people stop smoking. They had also experienced the devastating effects of smoking, like me, and wanted to stop others from going down the same path.

I’ve continued to be involved with Great American Smokeout events and worked several years on advocacy initiatives both local and statewide that supported clean indoor air and higher tobacco taxes. I believe your idea was the catalyst that started the movement to end smoking. So much has changed over the years and we have made so much progress against an industry that knowingly promotes and sells an addictive and deadly product. I believe the Smokeout and other tobacco control efforts have led to a huge decrease in smoking. I am indebted to you for a career that has lasted more than 25 years.

My sincere appreciation,

Renee Kelley"

Arthur's daughter, Lynn, was moved by our quick response. In an email she wrote: 

"Wow!!! I can't believe you wrote. This is amazing!!! I will read your messages to my dad. He has no idea that I reached out you. Earlier today I found a box of letters from all over the continent thanking my dad for creating this program, from state senators to students, parents and business people. I don't think my dad has any idea the positive impact he has made in so many lives! He never looked for recognition; he just always did what he thought was right.

My dad will be so moved by your words. I thank you very much! I attached a couple photos for you to enjoy. One is of the original posters my dad used for the campaign and the other is some of the letters and cards he received that 1st year." (Those letters are pictured here in the smaller image.)

Eustacia Mahoney, our VP, Volunteer Engagement, said: "As this story began to unfold, I found tears in my eyes. When I saw the notes from Renee and Gary, and the subsequent reaction from the Mullaney family, I was reminded that our organization does not stand on bricks and mortar; it soars on hearts and minds. It feels really good to be part of a team that acknowledges the significance of human beings, their effort and their passion to make a difference. JUST AWESOME!!"

About Arthur and the evolution of the Great American Smokeout 

In 1971, Arthur P. Mullaney, a guidance counselor at Randolph High School in Randolph, MA, suggested that smokers in the town stop smoking for a day, and donate the money they would have spent on cigarettes to a college scholorship fund for students. The event had enthusiastic support from the town of Randolph, and in year three, the American Cancer Society had come on board with marketing help, bringing in well-known sports figures from the Boston Celtics and the New England Patriots.

Then, in 1974, Lynn R. Smith, editor of the Monticello Times in Minnesota, spearheaded the state’s first D-Day, or Don’t Smoke Day. The idea caught on, too,, and on November 18, 1976, our California Division got nearly 1 million smokers to quit for the day. 

That California event marked the first ACS Smokeout, and the Society took it nationwide in 1977. Every year since then, the third Thursday in November has been reserved for the Great American Smokeout, hosted by the ACS. 

PHOTOS: Pictured in the top image is the poster from Arthur's first event. Next to it is a photo of Renee Kelley at a 1995 Great American Smokeout event in Wichita, Kansas.

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