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Joe Gillette inducted to Relay For Life Hall of Fame

Founder of Relay First Lap celebrated for his lasting impact.

On Saturday, September 30, one of the American Cancer Society’s most passionate and innovative supporters was celebrated by the entire Relay For Life community. In a surprise ceremony, longtime volunteer Joe Gillette was inducted into the Relay For Life Hall of Fame, a select group of Relay volunteers and team members that have made a significant, lasting impact on the program. Joe, the 2021 National Volunteer Leadership Award winner, is the first inductee in seven years and was presented the honor by current Hall of Fame members Laura McCormick and Jeff Ross. Also, in attendance during Saturday’s ceremony was Chief of Organizational Advancement Mike Neal, and Bryan Sherwood, senior director, Relay For Life, along with Joe’s wife Debbie, and several of his daughters.

Pictured above, during the ceremony at the TWA Hotel at New York’s JFK Airport, from left to right, are Austin DeSavino, director, Development; Paul Woldar, senior development manager; Mike Neal, chief of Organizational Advancement; Steve Bell, volunteer, former National Relay For Life lead; Debbie Gillette (Joe’s wife); Laura McCormick, Hall of Fame member; Bryan Sherwood, senior director, Relay For Life; Jeff Ross, Hall of Fame member; Mark Flynn, volunteer and son of Pat Flynn (Hall of Fame member).

“Just seeing everyone here today – it’s a little bit of what ACS has become to me. It’s Relay, it’s Strides, it’s Men Wear Pink, Determination, all the little facets – all in one place, and it’s overwhelming,” said Joe, pictured at right. “You know, when you go through what I went through, you look for those things that get you through to the next month. At first, it was my daughter’s wedding, then it was getting home, and then it was this [event]. To have this come together and be my first step back into business again, is really overwhelming.” Joe added, “I am truly grateful for everything all of you have meant to me, and what ACS has meant to me, it’s really been amazing.”

Joe began his involvement with ACS in 2010 through the Relay For Life of Brooklyn, and he quickly positioned himself as a national leader. A social media enthusiast, Joe continually generates innovative ideas to make Relay more meaningful, and he brings them to life by rallying volunteers across the globe. In fact, it was Joe’s inspiration that brought the American Cancer Society’s Relay First Lap to fruition.

Thanks to Joe’s vision, the first Saturday of the year is now Relay First Lap – a day when Relay For Life enthusiasts gather their teams to take the first lap of the new year together, while encouraging new participants to sign up online and start their fundraising efforts. Joe also launched an annual Relay For Life fundraising calendar to support team efforts. This unique calendar engages members of the Relay community with fun, creative themes each year. Not only does Joe serve as a mentor to others, but he quite literally puts his money where his mouth is, having achieved nearly $500,000 in personal fundraising to date across a variety of ACS programs and events.

As an active member of the Greater New York City Board of Advisors for the American Cancer Society, Joe brings his passion for fundraising to all aspects of the organization’s mission, including raising funds and awareness for key patient support programs and services, such as free lodging and transportation for people facing cancer. After being diagnosed with cancer himself, Joe’s family and Relay friends rallied globally to support and encourage him along his journey.

Please join us in congratulating Joe on his induction into the Relay Hall of Fame by posting a message of support in the Relay For Life Community on Facebook!

About the American Cancer Society

The American Cancer Society is a leading cancer-fighting organization with a vision to end cancer as we know it, for everyone. For more than 110 years, we have been improving the lives of people with cancer and their families as the only organization combating cancer through advocacy, research, and patient support.  We are committed to ensuring everyone has an opportunity to prevent, detect, treat, and survive cancer. To learn more, visit or call our 24/7 helpline at 1-800-227-2345.


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