Make-A-Wish co-founder William Drury Jr. has created a lasting legacy of helping sick children and their families
Published in 2017 Southwest Super Lawyers magazine
on April 10, 2017
Updated on April 12, 2017
In 1980, 7-year-old Chris Greicius, who had leukemia, said he wanted to be a police officer “to catch bad guys.” A group of do-gooders—including a friend of the family who happened to be a U.S. Customs Agent—jumped through bureaucratic hoops to make it happen, creating a uniform, a small motorcycle and a pad and pen. “Chris had so much fun riding up and down his street writing tickets,” says Bill Drury, whose sister-in-law was involved in the effort.
Chris died soon after, and the group realized that what had been done for him could become something special. Drury was invited to help put an organization together. It was originally named Chris Greicius Make-A-Wish Memorial, Inc., and its first-year budget was just $10,000. Drury thought it could become one of the biggest charities in America.
In 1982, NBC broadcast a story about the organization. “They filmed part of it in my office,” says Drury, now a senior shareholder at Renaud Cook Drury Mesaros in Phoenix, where he focuses on personal injury defense and has tried more than 100 cases to a jury verdict. After the TV program aired, the group was flooded with requests for information.
“We knew how much interest there was because we got so many letters and phone calls from others wanting to get involved,” he says.
The board eventually decided to go national. Drury and four other board members led the effort to build the Make-A-Wish Foundation of America, a national organization with local chapters. He recruited people with various types of expertise, including another lawyer to help set up its 501(c)(3) status. “I never was the [organization’s] corporate lawyer,” he says. “I set up how we would operate, what wishes we would grant, the parameters of granting. We raised some funds, and off it went.”
That’s an understatement. With Drury serving as executive vice president from 1986 to 1987 and as a director until 1989, the organization grew from that first wish to almost 15,000 granted wishes in 2015. In 2010, at the organization’s 30th anniversary, its national office budget was tens of millions of dollars. Drury left the group the day before he would have become its president. “I had three young kids at home, so I stepped down,” he says. “These things require changes in leadership, and we had a solid group there.”
But he never fully stepped away from charity work. After his wife, Colleen, died of ovarian cancer in 2013, Drury’s four daughters and their husbands formed Colleen’s Dream in her honor, a foundation dedicated to improving the detection and treatment of ovarian cancer. “We’ve raised hundreds of thousands of dollars so far,” he says.
He’s immensely proud of what Make-A-Wish has become. “I have to chuckle to myself. I still remember the day we decided to go with the wishbone logo,” he says. “Back then, I knew I wanted to get involved in the community, but I was only a young lawyer. This fell out of the sky. I am proud of being part of something that took on a life of its own, and amazed at what it has become.”