On Monday June 8, 2015, St. James School celebrated the 90th birthday of its visionary co-founder Dr. Audrey Evans, hailing her invaluable contributions to medicine and education during a festive evening punctuated by special birthday surprises and moving tributes at The Union League of Philadelphia.
Dr. Evans is a well known pioneer in the clinical study and treatment of childhood cancers. She developed the Evans Staging System for neuroblastoma, which is credited with reducing fatality rates by over 50%. Throughout her impressive medical career, Dr. Evans championed the philosophy of “total care,” caring not just for her patients’ medical needs, but also their social, emotional, and spiritual needs, and providing comprehensive support for their families. This led her to open the first Ronald McDonald House in 1974, a house and supportive community where families can stay during their child’s illness and treatment to ease stress and uncertainty. Today there are over 300 Ronald McDonald houses across the world.
After retiring from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) in 2009, Dr. Evans brought her model of total care to the world of education. Under her leadership, St. James School opened its doors in 2011.
Over 200 guests gathered to celebrate Dr. Evans, including St. James staff and Board members, Dr. Evans’ former colleagues from Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, family, friends, and the many people who she has touched throughout her career. Guests included co-chairs Dr. Giulio D’Angio, Dr. Evans’ husband and retired Professor of Radiation Oncology, University of Pennsylvania; the Hon. Gregory P. Montanaro, President of the Union League and St. James School Board member; The Rev. Sean Mullen, Rector of Saint Mark’s Church in Center City and Board Chair of St. James School; and committee members Dr. Luther Brady, Radiation Oncologist, Hahnemann University Hospital; Richard Buchanan, Dr. Evans’ godson and Co-Founder of Archer and Buchanan Architecture; the Lotman Family; Dr. John Maris, Pediatric Oncologist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia; and Marlene Weinberg, President of the Board of Director of the Philadelphia Ronald McDonald House.
To kick off the evening, Dr. Evans and Dr. D’Angio joined top sponsors for a champagne toast and behind-the-scenes tour of the Union League’s Heritage Center, led by James Mundy, Director of Historical Collections. The fascinating exhibit focused on events in the year 1865, including the end of the Civil War and President Lincoln’s tragic death.
The celebration then moved to the Grant Room, where guests were greeted by St. James School student ambassadors, sampled food and cocktails from Di Bruno Bros. and the Union League, enjoyed musical selections from a local harpist, and browsed a gift registry of items like horseback riding lessons, books, and science materials available for purchase in Dr. Evans’ honor for the school.
Trumpeters and the St. James School Choir surprised guests with pop-up entertainment throughout the cocktail party. Dr. Evans loved the first choir performance so much, she requested an encore (and the choristers happily complied!)
Later in the evening, trumpeters got the buzzing crowd’s attention with a festive march, and all eyes turned toward Dr. Evans and Dr. D’Angio. The pair made a grand entrance as they processed to the stage at the front of the room to enthusiastic applause and a standing ovation. Bishop Edward Lee delivered a touching invocation. Afterwards, guests watched a stunning mini-documentary “Audrey at 90: A Woman Who Cares.” The video brought to life Dr. Evans’ remarkable career and her inspiration to start St. James, included interviews with friends and loved ones, and a cartoon of Dr. Evans’ famous “bunny story,” the story of a patient she treated who wouldn’t lie still for the doctors until Dr. Evans started letting her bring her bunny with her to radiation therapy. “That’s how you do radiation therapy!” Dr. Evans exclaimed.
Speakers were invited to share 90 words about Dr. Evans in honor of her 90th birthday. Father Sean Mullen shared an inspirational poem, Dr. D’Angio an anecdote about his wife’s compassion, and Allegheny-West sponsors Betsy and Bill Payne a touching tribute. Deputy Mayor of Philadelphia Everett Gillison presented Dr. Evans with an official proclamation from the City of Philadelphia honoring her for achievements. Friends Richard Buchanan and Evie Dutton presented Dr. Evans with a special gift–a scrapbook filled with letters and artwork from St. James students and teachers. The St. James School Choir returned to the stage to lead a singing of “Happy Birthday.”
Before the evening ended, Father Mullen shared an exciting announcement—all donations raised that night would count toward a surprise Matching Gift Challenge in Dr. Evans’ honor. Betsy and Bill Payne will match up to $50,000 in gifts made in Dr. Evans’ honor made between June 8 and June 30, 2015.
Dr. Evans was awed by the outpouring of support, especially all of the funds raised for the students of St. James. “I look forward to doing this again next year for my 91st birthday!” she happily joked.