Class of 2013 Difference Makers

Jim Vinick

Managing Director of Investments for Moors & Cabot Inc.

Jim Vinick

Jim Vinick
Photo by Denise Smith Photography

As he talked about one of his latest — and most intriguing — endeavors, Jim Vinick’s passion, perseverance, and dedication to those causes that are special to him came across quickly and clearly.

And so did his no-nonsense approach to getting things done.

This particular project involves a statue he’s commissioned that will honor the late Einer Gustafson — the individual identified fairly late in his life as the young boy who became the ‘Jimmy’ in the Jimmy Fund — and the man who treated him, Dr. Sidney Farber, founder of the Children’s Cancer Research Foundation (eventually renamed the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute) and the father of modern chemotherapy.

The initiative is the latest manifestation of a 35-year commitment Vinick has made to the Jimmy Fund, service that escalated, and took on a far more personal character, after his son, Jeffrey, was treated at Dana-Farber but eventually lost his battle against rare form of testicular cancer in 1982, and his daughter, Beth, became a cancer survivor.

Originally, the plan was to have the statue also include Red Sox slugger Ted Williams, long known for his devotion to the Jimmy Fund. But Vinick knows his Jimmy Fund history. So he also knows that, when the then-12-year-old Gustafson was selected to speak on Ralph Edwards’ national radio program Truth or Consequences from his hospital bed in 1948, he was surrounded by members of the Boston Braves, the National League franchise that actually started the Jimmy Fund (the Red Sox picked up the mantle after the Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953).

Thus, Vinick decided to remove Williams from his plans, even though he was his close friend for many years and actually still owns the rights to produce his life’s story on screen (more on that later).

But there’s much more to this saga.

Originally, officials wanted the statue placed in what Vinick considered to be a remote corner of a huge facility cluttered with more than 19,000 pieces of art. “I said to them, ‘if we’re going to hide this, I’m not going to do it — not for this price [$150,000],” he told BusinessWest, adding that he then secured a far more prominent location where the statue would be virtually impossible to miss. Meanwhile, Farber’s son wanted some specific wording on the accompanying plaque.

“He wanted it certain ways, and I wanted it certain ways, and finally, I got it may way — and it was going to be my way or the highway,” said Vinick. “I told them, ‘this is my project, and I’m not doing this for Dr. Farber, I’m doing it for the original Jimmy.’ Dr.’s Farber’s obviously a massive part of it, but this all germinated with Jimmy.”

“My Way” is the title to a song made famous by Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley, among others, but those two words constitute Vinick’s MO as well.

His way has been to be an ardent, nearly life-long supporter of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, a commitment described by the Hall’s president, John Doleva, this way: “he is unequivocally one of the most passionate and involved board members in the history of Basketball Hall of Fame, and can be seen supporting our important events across the U.S., sharing the pride of the birthplace of basketball.”

His way has been to get deeply involved with the Western Mass. Jimmy Fund Council and stay involved for more than 35 years. His passion has been the Jeffrey Vinick Jimmy Fund Golf Tournament, which has raised more than $9 million in the 34 years it has existed.

His way has been to lend his time, energy, and imagination to groups ranging from the Jewish Community Center to the Willie Ross School for the Deaf; from Temple Beth El to the Springfield Armor basketball team (he’s a partner in that venture).

And his way has been to right some things that he sees as wrong — like the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute not having a memorial to either Farber or the young man who inspired a charitable institution that has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to find cures for a killer.

Because he’s always done things his way, and because that approach has greatly impacted so many lives, Jim Vinick has been chosen as a Difference Maker for 2013.

Star Power

The walls and shelves in Vinick’s office on the 15th floor of One Financial Plaza in Springfield are crowded with photographs, news clippings, and other assorted memorabilia that do a decent job of summing up his life, career, and philanthropic exploits.

The collection includes everything from photos of family members, including his son Jeff, to news reports involving Friendly’s — he controlled a large amount of stock in the Wilbraham-based corporation and was often quoted in recent years on the many developments that have shaped the company — to a snapshot from his early days doing The Vinick Report, the region’s first business-news segment, on Channel 40.

And then, there’s a photo that captures the moment in February 1986 when Ted Williams signed the contract giving Vinick exclusive rights to his life’s story.

“The check was for $125,000 — that was a down payment — and that was the biggest check he’d ever seen in his life,” Vinick recalled, adding that the Splendid Splinter, as he was called, never surpassed $100,000 as a ballplayer, and that figure represented the annual amount paid to him by Sears Roebuck for 20 years to be one of its top pitchmen.

“Ted was under the gun — in 1980, he dropped Sears Roebuck,” Vinick recalled. At the time, the two were close friends who had worked together on many Jimmy Fund initiatives, including the annual Western Mass. sports banquet, at which Williams spoke on several occasions.

Vinick has never been able to get the Williams project off the ground, although it’s not from lack of effort, and he says he’s not through trying. He had a screenwriter interested, fielded inquiries from several actors looking to play the part (including Treat Williams and David Hasselhoff), shopped the project at various Hollywood studios, and spent a lot of money trying to pull a script together. But the pieces never fell into place.

However, frustration with the Williams project has been one of the very few real setbacks for Vinick, who has historically seen his persistence and passion take him — and the organizations he’s supported — to where he wants to go.

Perhaps the best example of this is the Jimmy Fund, which he has served for more than 35 years as a member of the Western Mass. Council, work that could best be described as a mix of personal tragedy, triumph over extreme adversity, and true inspiration.

Most in the region know the story of how Vinick’s son Jeffrey succumbed to cancer after a long fight, and they probably know also how his daughter, Beth, won her battle against the disease, but not before her mother (Vinick’s wife, Harriet) took her own life just days after Beth’s cancer was diagnosed.

“Those are my daughter’s twins there,” said Vinick, pointing at a photo on his wall, adding that his work with the Jimmy Fund takes many forms. The golf tournament is the most visible, but there are many other fund-raising events, including the recent Chef’s Night at Chez Josef.

“For the past several years, the Western Mass. Jimmy Fund Council has raised over $1 million,” he said, “and my family’s been an integral part of that.”

And for his efforts on behalf of the Jimmy Fund, Vinick has receieved one of the highest awards bestowed by the organization, the Bob Cheyne Lifetime Achievement Award.

Far from satisfied, he’s pushing ahead with the statue of ‘Jimmy’ and Dr. Farber. He’s commissioned Brian Hanlon, who he met through the Hall of Fame (he’s the shrine’s official sculptor), who will add this project to a portfolio that includes a statue of Shaquille O’Neal on the LSU campus, one of Bob Cousy at Holy Cross, and planned works on Chuck Bednarik and Yogi Berra.

Court of Opinion

Beyond the Jimmy Fund, Vinick is best noted for his work with the Basketball Hall of Fame, an institution he’s been involved with for about as long as he can remember. Actually, it started with his father. He ran a dry-cleaning business and eventually became involved in the building of the first Hall of Fame on the campus of Springfield College, a project that started in 1959, but was often delayed by funding problems and wasn’t completed until 1968.

Jim Vinick was intricately involved in both the building of the second Hall (the first on Springfield’s riverfront), which opened in 1983, and the current structure, which opened nearly a decade ago.

“I guess that’s my legacy to the city of Springfield,” he said of the current Hall complex. “Obviously, we’ve had a tremendous amount of help everywhere, and I’m just a cog in the wheel … but I’m devoted to it, and I’ve been involved since day one.”

One of his signature projects was the creation of the Jeffrey Vinick Memorial Locker Room in the first Hall on the riverfront.

“He was always in the locker room, so I thought this was the most appropriate way to honor him,” Vinick said of his son, who starred in three sports at Longmeadow High School.

Over the years, Vinick has held a number of positions and titles with the Hall, including board member, governor, treasurer, member of the Audit & Finance Committee, and chairman of the Endowment Fund. For his efforts, he was recognized with the Chairman’s Cup Award in 2010.

Doleva told BusinessWest that it’s not only what Vinick has accomplished, but also how, that stands out.

“He’s a very intense individual, let me put it that way,” he explained. “When I first met him, I kind of felt that he was a little over the top. But you have to take time to understand what Jim is all about, especially when he’s passionate about an organization you’re involved with.

“And it does take time to completely understand where he’s coming from,” he continued. “But there is no one more impassioned, more connected to this organization, than he is.

“We have events all over the country, and very few of my Board of Governors members, who live throughout the country, attend them,” Doleva went on. “Jim’s at almost every one of them, and he’s a local governor. He’ll go to the Final Four, he’ll go to a statue unveiling, he’ll be at various basketball tournaments around the country staged to support the Hall of Fame. And he doesn’t just go to be there and enjoy a good basketball game and a few social events; he’s there, and the switch never goes off — he’s talking about Springfield and the Hall of Fame and the birthplace of basketball. He just never stops.”

This ‘never stops’ quality equates to always looking for new and different ways to give back to the community — such as with another of his more recent endeavors, restoration of Robert Lewis Reid’s historic mural, titled “The Light of Education,” which hung in the auditorium of his alma mater, Classical High School, for more than 70 years.

When the school was converted into condominiums in the late ’80s, the mural was removed and subsequently damaged, said Vinick, adding that he and other members of the class of 1958 are working in conjunction with the Springfield Council for Cultural and Community Affairs to restore the piece and then hang it in the Springfield Library.

“We’re up to about $109,000, and we’re still collecting money,” he said, adding that the efforts recently received a boost in the form of a $23,000 check from Audrey Geisel, widow of Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss). “This is a piece of Springfield’s history, and it should be there for citizens and visitors to enjoy.”

Art of the Deal

Work on the Jimmy statue had been delayed somewhat — Vinick said it took several months to get permission to use the 1948 Boston Braves uniform given to Gustafson by the team’s manager, Jimmy Southworth, in the statue’s design — but everything now appears on track for a spring unveiling.

There have been several challenges to overcome and many logistical hurdles to clear, but they are now all in the past tense.

That’s because Vinick is doing things his way, and also because, as Doleva said, the switch never goes off when it comes to something he’s passionate about.

George O’Brien can be reached at  [email protected]