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A $2 Million Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Video Included:
Art Garfunkle
When most people think of Art Garfunkel, they not only think of him as half the folk-pop duo Simon & Garfunkel; they think of him as the singer of “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” which includes the lyrics “I’ll take your part/ when darkness comes/ and pain is all around.” Appropriately enough, you can now also think of Garfunkel as a major player in the fight against blindness.

Two weeks ago, the principals in a campaign known as End Blindness by 20/20 announced that they were putting up $2 million in gold for the individual, group, or institution that contributes most to eradicating blindness by the year 2020. Those principals are former Columbia University roommates Sanford Greenberg, Jerry Speyer and, yes, Art Garfunkel.

The reward, known as the Sanford and Susan Greenberg Prize, will be administered by FFB’s longtime partner the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University, in particular a governing council which includes Dr. Morton Goldberg, a world-renowned retinal disease researcher who’s also chairman of the Foundation’s Clinical Research Institute and a member of its Scientific Advisory Board. So how, exactly, does Art Garfunkel fit in?

The singer explains his role in this video:

Long story short, Garfunkel befriended Greenberg when they were roommates at Columbia in the early 1960s. At age 19, Greenberg suddenly lost his vision to glaucoma and, despite being told he should go home to Buffalo and learn how to make screwdrivers, graduated Phi Beta Kappa. He then attained advanced degrees, worked for U.S. presidents and found success as a tech entrepreneur – all while he, Garfunkel and Speyer, a real estate mogul, remained close friends.

In 2005, during his commencement speech at Hopkins, the university’s then president, William Brody, told the story of how Garfunkel helped Greenberg in college by, among other things, reading his textbooks aloud to him. Years later, when a then-unknown act named Simon & Garfunkel needed money to record a demo of a song titled “The Sound of Silence,” Greenberg gave Garfunkel $500.

Greenberg, Garfunkel and Speyer came of age about the time President John Kennedy challenged the scientific community’s best minds to put a man on the moon within a decade. It took roughly 8 years, or 2,978 days. And, in that same spirit, Greenberg et al. announced their challenge on October 18 – 2,978 days from when the winner of the prize will be announced, in mid-December of 2020.

In another video on the site, Dr. Peter McDonnell, director of the Wilmer Eye Institute, explains that the $2 million prize is being offered to parties worldwide, so that not just any one agency or person, but an entire community of researchers, is working toward the same goal – “to find light for the millions who now awaken to darkness.”

While FFB is focused specifically on retinal diseases, which affect 10 million Americans, its approach runs parallel to that of the End Blindness by 20/20 campaign. FFB has cast an international net so as to find promising research opportunities and raise the funds needed to ferry potential treatments through clinical trials. Seeing as Messrs. Greenberg, Garfunkel and Speyer are doing the same, we applaud their efforts.

Art Garfunkel perhaps sums it up best in his video when he says that, although Greenberg has been able to achieve much in his life, he’s never given up on the vow, made at a young age, to end blindness for everyone after him. Then, with his arm around Greenberg, Garfunkel says that he once “tried to close my eyes for a day, in an effort to truly empathize with my dear friend here. I got up to an hour.”

7 Responses to 'A $2 Million Bridge Over Troubled Waters'

  1. Diane Master says:

    Thank you for this inspiring story. I hope you succeed in finding a global cure for blindness. My daughter has courageously been fighting RP for twenty years. I pray that you succeed for all of those that follow.

  2. Judy Bastin says:

    What a wonderful story. I have myopic degeneration and have lost central vision in left eye. My vision is very blurry in my right eye. My retina doctor (Dr. Thomas Stone) of Lexington, Ky. is wonderful!!!! I am wondering if there’s anything more that you could do for me. My eyes haven’t leaked for several yrs. but my vision is getting worse. Thank you !

  3. e cigarette says:

    Admiring the persistence you put into your site and detailed information you present.

    It’s good to come across a blog every once in a while that
    isn’t the same old rehashed material. Great read! I’ve
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  4. Kathy Mc says:

    A true model of humanity is the giving to others, that which is not bestowed upon oneself.
    I greatly admire your generous and loving ability to attempt to turn your loss
    into someone’s potential gain. I thank god and life that people like you
    exist in this world.

  5. Adeyemo Sodipo says:

    What story!!! Watched the interview several times and just loved it. Sandy Greenberg is an awesome person!!!

  6. Rachel Jordan says:

    What a wonderful challenge to the research community! My entire family for generations has faced the challenges of retinitis pigmentosia with no hope for a cure. The hereditary disease, and its day-to-day limitations and near guarantee of eventual blindness, affects every aspect of our lives from choices of occupations to decisions on whether to have children. It gives me a smile to think future generations may not have to deal with these issues.

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