Shortly after a horse-riding accident left actor Christopher Reeve paralyzed, he was paid a visit by an Eastern European proctologist. As the doctor’s behavior became increasingly flamboyant, Reeve finally realized that it was his friend from The Julliard School, Robin Williams, in costume. It was the first time he smiled since his injury.
The story is a favorite of Peter Wilderotter, president and CEO of the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation in Short Hills, N.J., in showing the close personal bond between the two long-time friends. That close relationship continues after the passing of both actors. Williams’ children recently placed 87 of his beloved bicycles up for auction – the proceeds to be split between the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and Challenged Athletes Foundation.
The auction, which closed earlier this week, raised more than $600,000, according to the organization. Williams’ Master Pista, La Carrera Futura 2000 bicycle alone took in more than $40,000.
Wilderotter opined that the auction’s success was a testament to how much Williams is still loved by the public. The fact that the bikes, generally priced in the $1,000 to $2,000 range, were fetching several times that at auction reminded Wilderotter of Princess Diana’s dress auction.
“It’s such a grand gesture from his children, to see a gesture this beautiful reminds us all what these foundations can do,” Wilderotter said. “It has so far exceeded our expectations for it.”
Williams was a long-time supporter of the foundation, becoming very well versed in the science behind spinal cord injuries and able to speak eloquently on the Reeves’ vision for a cure. He would visit veterans’ hospitals and put on events with Dana Reeve, according to Wilderotter, his only request being to keep his participation quiet. When he’d come up for the foundation’s dinner, Williams would politely take pictures and sign autographs for fellow guests. “He was an understated, quiet philanthropist,” said Wilderotter
The foundation’s portion of the proceeds will go toward its care/cure mission, Wilderotter said, believing that it can help move the needle on the research side. The CEO was complimentary of the auction’s other benefactor, Challenged Athletes Foundation, saying that the two share common goals.
Challenged Athletes Foundation, based in San Diego, Calif., supports those with physical disabilities in pursuing a healthy, active lifestyle by providing grants for equipment, according to Virginia Tinley, senior director of philanthropy.
Williams competed in the foundation’s San Diego Triathlon Challenge, an event featuring both able-bodied and physically challenged athletes, for a decade. As part of Team Braveheart, Williams would complete the cycling leg while Ironman Scott Tinley would run and Paralympian Rudy Garcia-Tolson swam.
The actor, in addition to participating in the triathlon, would exhibit random acts of kindness throughout the year, Tinley said. Williams would donate, perform and kickoff the foundation’s Northern California cycling event’s dinner.
“He was part of the family and so, obviously, his passing was just like it was for everyone – it was so sad,” Tinley said. “His kids had come to the triathlon through the years. They did have found memories of being there with their dad.”
Following Williams’ death, the foundation had a gala to start an endowment in Williams’ memory – raising $1 million with an anonymous donor matching the sum. Interest accrued from the endowment goes to the purchase of equipment for challenged athletes. So far this year, a rugby chair, basketball wheel chair and surfboard were purchased through the endowment, with $90,000 expected to be given out this year. Challenged Athletes Foundation’s portion of the auction proceeds will go toward the endowment, Tinley said.
“It’s such a meaningful gift to all of us,” she said of the bicycles. “It’s very generous of the kids to donate the bikes to these two foundations.”