Dr. Audrey Evans, Co-Founder & Visionary
Born in 1925 in York England, Dr. Audrey Evans knew from a young age that her calling was to serve the world as a doctor. Though one of only a few women entering the medical field at the time, she boldly pursued and completed medical training at The Royal College of Surgeons in Edinburgh, Scotland, graduating in 1953. With the help of a Fulbright Fellowship, Dr. Evans came to the United States in 1953 to serve at Boston Children’s Hospital, where she was an instrumental part of life-changing research working under Dr. Sidney Farber. (The system for pediatric care in the UK was a hospital consultant service, and she was advised that the limited number of appointments available would probably be filled by men.)
While in Boston, her passion for pediatrics and compassion for individuals developed into what would become a lifelong mission to develop and support methods, systems, and organizations that provide comprehensive and integrated care for suffering children and their families.
Mother of Neuroblastoma
In 1965 at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, surgeon-in-chief C. Everett Koop (who would become the United States Surgeon General in the 1980s) had built a sizeable cancer practice with focus on neuroblastoma. By 1969 Koop needed an oncologist, and he flew to Chicago to recruit Dr. Evans to be the first Chief of Pediatric Oncology at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP). She has called Philadelphia home since.
It was at CHOP that Dr. Evans founded the Children’s Cancer Research Center and took on neoroblastoma, the most common extracranial solid cancer in childhood and the most common cancer in infancy, with an incidence of about 650 cases per year in the U.S. (per Wikipedia 2015). Her work with neoroblastoma is credited with reducing fatality rates by over 50 percent.
Co-Founder of Ronald McDonald House
Dr. Evans’ transformative work goes beyond the lab. When she saw families spend night after night in the hospital while their children received life-saving medical treatment, she knew there had to be a better way and envisioned a simple house where families could stay during these stressful and uncertain times.
“I was putting my families up in hotels with my personal credit card,” Dr. Evans recalls. “When Jim Murray of the Eagles offered a gift, I asked him to buy me a house near the hospital where my families could stay.”
That’s when Murray reached out to McDonald’s and suggested the Shamrock Shake as a way to fund this new house. On October 15, 1974, the very first Ronald McDonald House opened right here in Philadelphia. Today there are over 300 Ronald McDonald houses in over 57 countries and regions worldwide.
After retiring from CHOP in 2009, Dr. Evans’ efforts turned toward a vision of new life for the vacant historic property around the Church of St. James the Less. Together with co-founder Reverend Sean E. Mullen, rector of her home parish Saint Mark’s Church Philadelphia, Dr. Evans brought her model of total care for the child with cancer to the world of education. In 2011 St. James School became the only school of its kind in the city of Philadelphia, opening its doors to middle school students from an underresourced neighborhood to learn in a nurturing and faith-based environment.
With the same passion and dedication she once brought to bear on her life-saving work in the field of pediatric oncology, Dr. Evans is now tackling poverty and its inequitable, often devastating effects on young people. Through her work at St. James School, Dr. Evans continues to save and change lives, forging a new total care model for mission-centered, faith-based education, and working to break the cycle of poverty through education.
Today, Audrey lives with long-term collaborator and friend Dr. Giulio D’Angio, a radiation oncologist whose prolific research contributed significantly to advances in childhood cancer treatment. The two were happily married in 2005.