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Monday May 24, 2010

The first wish

How the world’s largest wish-granting organisation got started.

ALL his life, Christopher James Greicius dreamed of becoming a police officer. In his eyes, the police represented strength, power, and goodness in life. The seven-year-old boy, who was diagnosed with leukemia, never realised that his dream was to become the catalyst for the world’s largest wish-granting organisation.

Chris and his mother Linda had become friends with US Customs officer Tommy Austin in 1977.

“Freeze, I’m a cop!” was Chris’ greeting to the uniformed officer the first time they met. An instant friendship was created.

Austin promised Chris a ride in a police helicopter. In spring 1980, Chris’ condition worsened. Austin contacted Officer Ron Cox at the Arizona Department of Public Safety (DPS) to see how they could make Chris’ wish come true. Cox recruited more DPS officers to create a magical experience for the boy.

April 29, 1980, was Chris’ special day. He called Austin early in the morning to remind him: “You haven’t forgotten? I’ve been up for an hour and I’m ready to go.”

Cox had arranged for a DPS helicopter to pick Chris up and escort him around the city of Phoenix where they landed at the local DPS office. There, three police squad cars and a motorcycle ridden by the dashing Officer Frank Shankwitz welcomed him. Although Chris was thrilled, he declined a ride on the motorcycle, citing a lack of doors as his primary reason.

Chris’ law enforcement buddies gave him the nickname of Bubble Gum Trooper as he went nowhere without his trusty stick of gum. He even shared a pack with the DPS director who later swore him in as Arizona’s only honorary state trooper.

The following day, Cox contacted John’s Uniforms, the company responsible for making highway patrolmen’s uniforms. The company was so moved by Chris’ wish that the owner and two seamstresses worked all night to custom-make a highway patrolman uniform for Chris.

On May 1, several officers visited Chris, whose illness had taken a turn for the worse, and presented him with an official Arizona Highway Patrol uniform. Chris had been fascinated with the motorcycle wings that Shankwitz wore on his uniforms. Shankwitz explained to Chris that he needed to pass a proficiency test before he could have his wings. The officers set up a motorcycle course where Chris could take his test on his battery-operated motorcycle. Chris passed with flying colours.

On May 2, Chris was back in the hospital. Shankwitz presented Chris with his own motorcycle wings to complete his uniform. Chris was so proud and happy about being a patrolman that he asked for his uniform, motorcycle helmet and Smokey the Bear hat to be hung in his room so he could see them. The following day, Chris passed away, but not before having realised his greatest dream.

He was buried in Illinois. Several DPS officers joined Shankwitz on the sad mission to attend the burial. On the flight back to Arizona, Shankwitz and Scott Stahl, a fellow DPS officer, reflected on Chris’ magical experience. They saw how happy Chris had been, seeing his wish come true, which replaced some of Chris and Linda’s pain with smiles and laughter. They thought that if one boy’s wish could be granted, perhaps the same could be done for other children. And at that moment, the idea of the Make-A-Wish Foundation was born.

Upon returning to Phoenix, Arizona, the idea of granting wishes to other ill children was presented to many people who were integral in granting Chris’ wish. Linda endorsed the plan. The Chris Greicius Make-A-Wish Memorial was born, which later became known as the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

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