Montgomery County Chapter Featured Volunteer

The Mack FamilyThe Mack Family

Eleven years ago, Steve and Lisa Mack sat with their three sons in the office of a retinal specialist, who told them their two youngest boys, four-year-old Bobby and two-year-old Danny, were losing their vision to a rare genetic disease called retinitis pigmentosa. The doctor drew downward sloping lines on a white board, illustrating the inevitable rate at which vision would decline for the boys as they grew up.

Lisa felt absolutely lost at that moment. She recalls that Danny was sitting on her lap when the specialist said there wasn’t much anyone could do about the boys’ retinal disease. Steve concurs that the moment was grim, but adds, “The doctor did tell us to call the Foundation Fighting Blindness, that maybe they could help.”

The next year, the Mack family launched Swing for Sight, a golf tournament to raise money for the Foundation’s drive to find vision-saving treatments and cures. “As a father, you want to fix everything,” says Steve. “We wanted to try to raise money and awareness. We needed to do something that would give us hope.”

They chose a golf event, because Steve had previously participated in several charity tournaments, and knew people who had experience in putting golf events together. Lisa and Steve were told it would take a few years to get the tournament rolling; they would likely break even in the first year, raising $10,000 or $15,000. But the Macks brought in $85,000 for their inaugural event, and raised more than $1 million over the last nine years.

Every year, members from both sides of their family, business colleagues, and several friends contribute meaningfully to the event in their own way, whether it is through direct donations or help putting on the tournament. Steve says, “It’s like a wedding. You work for many months and then the day comes, and it is wonderful.” Lisa, adds, “It is the best day of the year.”

Vision loss is becoming more and more of a challenge for Bobby, now 14, and Danny, who is 12. Bobby recently gave up playing on his basketball team, because it became too difficult to follow the ball. It was a tough decision, because of his love for the sport and the camaraderie with his friends on the team. “That was the first time he really admitted he was having trouble seeing,” says Lisa. “It’s traumatic, because he is giving up something that he really enjoys.” Steve told Bobby that he might not be able to play basketball, but he could aspire to own a team like Gordon Gund did.

The Macks are proud of their eldest son, Andy, who does not have retinitis pigmentosa, but looks out for his younger siblings. “Andy has been a great big brother. He’s had a lot of conversations with Danny and Bobby about their eyesight,” says Steve. “He really looks after them. Sometimes I have to remind Andy that they aren’t his responsibility, that we are teaching Bobby and Danny to be their own advocates.”

An associate with Marriott International, Inc. for the last 16 years, Lisa was heartened to see Bill Marriott, chairman and chief executive officer of the company, receive the Foundation’s Visionary Award this year in Washington, DC. “I think that Mr. Marriott is a true visionary in so many ways, which is why this award is so appropriate,” says Lisa. “He adds a real human aspect to the leadership of the company. His management principle — that if you treat your employees well, they will take care of the customer — is something that permeates throughout the company. From Spirit to Serve, Marriott’s commitment to community service, to embracing the balance of work, life, and family, it is obvious that family is fundamental to the Marriott story and not just a buzz word.”

And speaking of fundraising dinners, the Mack family has made dozens of appearances at Foundation Visionary Award Dinners and fundraising events over the last two years — virtually, that is. They were one of the families featured in the video “Seeing into the Future,” which played during many events across the country from 2007 through 2009. Their openness and honesty made it a very touching video.