45_John Davidson

Walk the Walk

Jesse Davidson was diagnosed at age 6 with a rare form of muscular dystrophy. His father, John, pushed Jesse in a wheelchair on “Jesse’s Journey,” a 2,000-mile trip across Ontario, then walked across Canada on a 286-day odyssey. He raised millions of dollars in the process.


John Davidson
Founder, Foundation for Gene and Cell Therapy
London, Ontario


What specific issue are you trying to address?
From the diagnosis of a little boy at age 6, to the 21 year old completing a Hotel Management course, the Davidson family’s son, Jesse, has been the centre of an amazing story of courage and accomplishment. Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy is a unique strain of the Muscular Dystrophy illness, in that it only affects boys, in their early years of development, and continues to advance until the battle for life is lost, most commonly in the early twenties. John Davidson, Jesse’s father, and Sherene, Jesse’s mother have spent 15 years facing a tragic certainty about their son’s future. They were determined to do all they could to try to prevent this situation from happening to others. After many years of seeking personal therapy for Jesse in the hope of slowing the progress of the illness, they turned their focus on the creation of a legacy in Jesse’s name. With friends, family and business associates, they formed the Foundation for Gene and Cell Therapy to secure funds for research. Throughout Canada, this Foundation became known as “Jesse’s Journey.”

What business principle applied?
John’s background had been in media, and he capitalized on his skills in public speaking, his network of peers and his understanding of the power of average citizens to do good with a grassroots campaign. He knew the value of teamwork, recognized the importance of developing and maintaining communities of interest, as well as hard work, commitment and determination.

How did you put it into practice?
In 1995 John undertook to push Jesse in a wheelchair across Ontario. The trip, which spanned 3,300 kilometres, (almost 2,000 miles) raised awareness of Duchenne MD, and at the same time succeeded in attracting over $1.5 million for the research cause. This ambitious accomplishment generated extensive public awareness and support for “Jesse’s Journey.” The funds raised helped create the Jesse Davidson Lab at the Ottawa Health Research Institute, accelerating genetic research for the good of people everywhere. With the funds invested into research, John asked himself what he could do next. The answer was to build a lasting pool of funds, an endowment, that would move upward until there was $10 million invested, providing $1 million every year to Gene and Cell Therapy research. In I998, John committed to a new project, walking across Canada to further build awareness and funds into a permanent fund. After 286 arduous days, John dipped his foot into the Pacific Ocean, at Victoria’s Beacon Hill park. At that moment, the collection from the road and supporters had reached $2million. Most of this money came to the cause from “grass roots” support in communities all across Canada. John has delivered his message in speaking engagements and appearances at secondary schools, church groups, community groups, businesses and associations.

How have you seen results?
Today, the Foundation for Gene and Cell Therapy has placed in excess of $3.4 million into invested funds, and the proceeds of its earning power are funding research practitioners selected by the Canadian Institutes for Health Research through a tightly controlled peer review process. The 1998 walk from Newfoundland to Victoria became known as ‘Jesse’s Journey, A Father’s Tribute. John walked 5,171 miles or 8,272 kilometres. It’s kind of like walking from New York to Los Angeles, then back to Las Vegas.(check for accuracy and correct) This amazing achievement has been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records, as well as Canada’s Prime Minister and Governor-General. It is a story of love, commitment and determination.


Since the Foundation was first formed, there have been major advances in the research into the Human Genome project providing hope and encouragement to families affected by Duchenne MD. John and his team have successfully mobilized scores of volunteers for the Board of Directors, the Fund Development Committee, and a number of annual events. One of the most successful and unique events, FUNdraising Friday This year the combined effort of businesses and young students generated more than $165,000 in a single day with an emphasis on having fun. The most recent development in this extraordinary story is the publication of a new book entitled “Jesse’s Journey, A Canadian Story.” Produced by Timberholme Publishing of Vancouver, with the initial printing virtually fully subsidized, the book is 400+ pages, with 36 pages of pictures in full colour, and includes an interactive CD-ROM showing highlights of the Journey, and brief news reports from the stories done during the actual crossing of Canada. Proceeds from book sales will go directly to the Foundation and on to the endowment. Sales of the book have just been offered to the 23,000 donors who are resident on the Jesse’s Journey mailing list. This advance opportunity will allow purchase of the book for Christmas giving. A retail book release is planned for early January, coinciding with the 3rd anniversary of the Journey’s completion. A whirlwind author’s promotional tour of the country will reach 9 cities (this time by plane) with media interviews and medical publicity in each location. Having the book reach the widest possible reading public is important to the objectives of the Journey by creating even greater public awareness, leading to more speaking engagements, and new partnership opportunities.

The moral: By having a powerful idea, working with and inspiring others, one person can indeed make a difference. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” Anthropologist, Margaret Mead Please note. This submission was written by Murray E. Morgan, President of The Co-Action Group and a volunteer on the Fund Development Committee with Jesse’s Journey. John Davidson has reviewed and approved the submission, but given the approaching deadline, I thought this was the most expedient route to submit his story. The mission of the Co-Action Group is ‘Putting Causes and Corporations Together to Build a Better World.’

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