Jay McGillis was only 21 when he was diagnosed with leukemia. The starting strong safety for the Boston College football team died eight months later.
That was in 1992, and the coach at Boston College was Tom Coughlin, the man now best known for leading the Giants to two Super Bowl victories. McGillis’s death impacted Coughlin emotionally, so he committed to make a difference in the lives of families like McGillis’s.
“I wanted to give back in a way that I knew how after having gone through the experience with Jay McGillis’s family and seeing what they went through,” said Coughlin, who is currently the executive vice president of football operations for the Jacksonville Jaguars. “I wanted very much to help families who had a child with cancer.”
Soon after becoming the first head coach in the history of the Jaguars franchise, in 1995, Coughlin started the Jay Fund, a non-profit organization in memory of Jay McGillis and benefitting families of children living with cancer.
In 1996, Coughlin hosted the first Jay Fund golf tournament, raising $51,600. This year, at the 22nd annual event, the Jay Fund raised over $600,000. To-date, the organization has distributed $8 million in assistance to over 4,000 families in Florida, New York, and New Jersey.
The 2017 tournament was held in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, at TPC Sawgrass, home to the PGA Tour headquarters and the annual host of The Players Championship golf tournament. Many people are familiar with this golf course because of the world famous island green on the par-3 17th hole. (The Players Championship had ended only eight days before the outing, so the course was in great shape.)
The night before the golf outing, the Jay Fund hosted a dinner that featured over 40 celebrities. Many of the attendees played for or worked with Coughlin, but in addition there was a professional golfer, an actor, a race car driver and many news and TV personalities.
It was clear that these people had a great deal of respect for Coughlin because when asked why they were there, NFL Hall of Famers Harry Carson and Bill Polian, along with Florida Gators football legend Steve Spurrier, all answered: “Because Tom Coughlin asked us to be here.”
Shaun O’Hara, a member of the Giants Super Bowl team under Coughlin, added, “We call him Coach Coughlin, but he’s like a second father to those of us who played for him.”
One more VIP in attendance was 10-year-old Destiny Daniels, a Jay Fund patient and leukemia survivor. When asked what it was like to see all of the celebrities here to support her, she said, “It feels good. It’s very nice that so many people are here to help me.” In addition to serving as an ambassador for the event, a local TV station put her to work interviewing celebrities. Her father added that the Jay Fund has been a “blessing” to their family, helping to pay bills during Destiny’s treatment.
Destiny’s appearance at the event is what makes having the organization worthwhile for Coughlin. “Anytime you see a child who we have helped overcome cancer and then go on to be productive, go on to college, etcetera.…it’s a tremendous feeling.”
When asked what Jay McGillis would think about the Jay Fund, Coughlin answered, “Jay was shy. He was humble. But he would know that a lot of very good work is being done in his name.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Jay Fund, visit www.tcjayfund.org.
Photographs by (from top) Courtesy of the Tom Coughlin Jay Fund Foundation; Michael Nichols