Early in the morning on June 8, the world lost a cancer research pioneer, thought leader and a kind, beloved humanitarian.Dr. Robert Arceci, a member of the St. Baldrick’s Foundation board of directors and chair of our Scientific Advisory Committee, was killed by a hit and run driver while on his way to work at Phoenix Children’s Hospital.
Most people feel that when it’s their time, they want to go doing something they love. For Bob, he was riding the motorcycle he loved, to the work he loved.
It’s hard to describe the hole Bob’s passing has left in the childhood cancer world. His accomplishments were too numerous to mention, but man, were they impressive. He treated countless children; was an international authority in many areas of pediatric cancer research; he developed groundbreaking documentaries to educate the public about the realities of childhood cancers; was the editor of the only international medical journal devoted to childhood cancer research, “Pediatric Blood & Cancer”; and more recently helped start a new molecular research institute at Phoenix Children’s Hospital. He served on the board or scientific committees of several childhood cancer organizations, chaired research meetings and was never afraid to embrace bold ideas or to say “yes” to things that intimidated others. He had seen worse every day at work.
In fact, Bob was fearless. Just last week he shared that one of his greatest concerns is the overly-cautious nature of many in the research world who are afraid to take risks. Bob was typically passionate, saying, “Research by definition is a risk — we won’t cure cancer without it!” He later implored, “How can a person meet these kids and not be willing to do everything in their power to help them?”
Bob’s life could have gone differently. He was a high school All-American in three sports and was the first in his family to go to college. As a young man, however, he didn’t have a grand plan for his life. A teacher filled out his college applications, and when he accepted an invitation to attend a campus lecture about a specific gland in sharks, he was turned on to science and a professor urged him to go to medical school. His life story is one of a man who kept saying “yes” to interesting ideas when the easier path would have been to say “no.”
All of us who knew Bob were accustomed to receiving 11 p.m., 2 a.m., or 5 a.m. emails. We’d urge him to rest so he could be fresh for morning rounds. There was no need; Bob was always ready. He lived to help his young patients and thrived on discovery. He was devoted to his wife and family and his other great passions — music and his motorcycle — but curing children was his life’s purpose.
Bob didn’t rest on his laurels, although he’ll surely be laid to rest upon them, and now the rest of us must continue the brilliant work that so inspired him and humbled us all.
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