At their annual ball Saturday, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society will honor the memory of a Bethesda resident who worked to support the group – while at the same time quietly struggling with a rare blood cancer that would eventually take his life.
Ten years ago, Bethesda resident Jim Eichberg passed away at the age of 63. A Washington-area native and a long-time volunteer and supporter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, along with several other charities, Eichberg was a member of the Leukemia Ball’s executive committee.
But several years after becoming involved with the Leukemia and Lymphoma society, Eichberg himself was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndrome, a rare blood cancer. MDS, as the disease is known, is among the diseases for which the group supports research.
Though he struggled with the illness, he continued fundraising and volunteering for LLS, and many at the organization weren’t aware of the condition, according to Eichberg’s son, Andy.
“I don’t think he wanted it to take away from what he was doing,” Eichberg said. “He didn’t want his fundraising to be about him – he wanted it to be about the cause. He didn’t want people to treat him differently because of it.”
After MDS took Jim Eichberg’s life in 2001, his family created the James L. Eichberg Foundation in his memory. The foundation fundraises for the charities Eichberg supported, including LLS and groups that focus on education and mentoring for disadvantaged youth in Washington, D.C.
“We wanted to remember him, and the best thing I could think of to keep his name and legacy alive was to continue to do what he was doing,” said Andy Eichberg, a Bethesda resident who works in commercial real estate, as did his father.
To mark the ten-year anniversary of Jim Eichberg’s death, LLS created the James L. Eichberg Lifetime Achievement Award, which will be presented this Saturday evening at the 25th annual Leukemia Ball. The inaugural recipient is Kevin Fay, founder of the group’s Congressional Honors Program, which has raised more than $3 million for LLS.
“I couldn’t be happier he’s the first winner of the award,” Andy Eichberg said. “He really fits what I envision as who my dad was and what his commitments were.”
One of Eichberg’s best qualities was his ability to work as a successful leader, while at the same time remaining down-to-earth, according to David Timko, the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society’s senior vice president of volunteer engagement, who directed the society’s national capital chapter for more than 20 years.
As the founder of the Leukemia Ball, Timko worked with Eichberg to coordinate the yearly event, which became one of the society’s largest fundraisers.
Though it was a sad irony Eichberg passed away from blood cancer while supporting he group, Timko said he’s hopeful the research LLS is supporting will soon lead to strides in treating the rare disease that took his life.
He praised Eichberg’s family for carrying on his work.
“Andy’s done a beautiful job allowing his memory to be held forward, while at the same time continuing Jim’s legacy of caring,” Timko said.