By Deborah Wilker
There was a time when children diagnosed with cystic fibrosis were not expected to make it to their teens. Today many CF patients live into their 40s and beyond, due in great part to research over the past 25 years that has started to unlock the mysteries of this incurable genetic disorder.
Approximately 30,000 Americans are afflicted with cystic fibrosis, which compromises the lungs and pancreas and can create deadly infections, among other life-threatening conditions.
Now in its 19th year, one of the nation’s leading fundraisers to combat CF is the annual AT&T Jeb Bush Florida Classic, a golf and fishing event Nov. 12-14 that has raised nearly $7 million to date.
“There’s very little government funding for this disease nationally,” says the event’s chairman, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush. “Fundraisers such as this are the principal source of money for finding a cure.”
By phone from his Coral Gables office, Bush was eager to talk about the strides made against CF, his passion for education reform, every-day life in Miami, even his favorite movies. But as for the red-hot question of the moment – “will he run for president in 2016?” – that’s a conversation, he said, that will wait for another day.
City & Shore Magazine: The Jeb Bush Classic has really grown over the years.
Jeb Bush: It sure has. We’ve always raised six figures so it’s been a successful event, but it has gotten bigger. We now have the beach bash and the gala. The fishing [tournament]’s been going on for about 5 years I think. We used to do it here in Miami. Then we started doing it around the state, and then we settled in, probably for the last 10 years, in Fort Lauderdale.
C&S: So why this particular charitable cause, Governor? Do you know someone with this disease?
JB: I was asked. It was that simple. Nineteen years ago a father of a child who died of cystic fibrosis came to my office and said, ‘Could you please get involved in this? We need to raise money.’ And I did.
C&S: You seem hopeful about a cure.
JB: I am. There’s been great success. The CF group is pretty unique. They raise money very efficiently, with very little spent on overhead. There could be a cure within five years.
C&S: The last time you and I spoke, we talked about your love of movies. What’s the last good movie you saw?
JB: I loved The Hundred Foot Journey with Helen Mirren. It’s spectacular. A really beautiful movie.
C&S: Do you still go once a week?
JB: No . . . no – too expensive! [laughing]. Well they’ve invented this crazy thing called Netflix, so my wife and I tend to watch more at home now.
C&S: Tell me a little about post-gubernatorial life in Florida for you these last several years. What’s an average day like?
JB: I work hard. I have a business with my son Jeb Jr. He’s my partner. And I’m the founder and chairman of The Foundation For Excellence in Education.
C&S: Education reform was a key issue for you while you were in office. Looking back, are you pleased with your efforts – and do you think your foundation’s current work is making a difference?
JB: I’m optimistic because it’s so important. Hopefully there will be continued support for finding the optimum way to educate kids. Because not enough young people are equipped to be college-ready or career-ready.
We spend a lot of money but we don’t necessarily get the results we need. It’s such a compelling challenge.
C&S: How does the Miami of today compare with the Miami you first encountered when you moved here more than 30 years ago?
JB: It’s grown! Phenomenally. And it’s become a world-class city. When I moved here in 1980 it was fun. It was a nice place. Now it’s a dramatically changed place, mostly for the better. We have a lot of great stuff going on here culturally; events like Art Basel, pro sports. Now we need David Beckham to build his stadium so we can have a global MLS franchise.
A lot of really interesting, creative people are always moving to Miami and South Florida in general. I think our taxes being so low to no [laughing], are very helpful.
C&S: Your dad, President George H.W. Bush, recently accomplished one of his trademark birthday skydives again. How do you cope with him continuing to jump out of perfectly good airplanes?
JB: I cheer him on. He’s 90 years old! He can do what he pleases [laughing]. If he wants to jump every day, he oughta be able to do it! Life is good.
The AT&T Jeb Bush Florida Classic, sponsored by The Wasie Foundation and presented by BB&T, Ford and Premier Beverage, gets under way next month with an “Angler’s Welcome Party” on Nov. 12 at The Hilton Fort Lauderdale Marina, followed by a fishing tournament the next day, and the “Beach Bash” at the Marina later that night. The Fort Lauderdale Country Club hosts the golf event on Friday Nov. 14, followed by the “Red-Tie Affair 65 Roses Gala” later that evening at the The Ritz-Carlton Fort Lauderdale. For tickets and event information, please visit Jebcf.org