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Few will ever be as successful as Gilbert Chagoury, but more impressively, he uses his gifts for the greater good of West Africans—and children in need worldwide.
Chagoury was born in Nigeria in 1946 to Lebanese parents. After marrying his wife, Rose Marie, he created a business to benefit all of West Africa. The Chagoury Group began as a flour mill but now includes construction, water bottling, telecommunications and international financing. It employs thousands in West Africa and prides itself on treating employees fairly.
Benevolence and social responsibility permeate every aspect of the Chagourys’ lives. Gilbert and Rose Marie are known particularly for their philanthropy toward children’s charities. It’s natural, then, that the couple came to know Danny Thomas and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Gilbert and Rose Marie met Thomas at the St. Jude Hollywood Gala in 1980. The couple, who keep a home in California, were attracted to the gala by what they knew of the St. Jude mission—and were even more impressed with what they learned.
“They embraced all of the good at St. Jude,” says Gilbert’s cousin, Gisele Chaghouri. “They appreciated that so much of the money raised goes to research and not administrative costs.”
Gilbert also felt a kinship with hospital founder Danny Thomas. “Gilbert was drawn to Danny’s personality, his leadership and his human side,” Chaghouri says. “He quickly came to feel that Danny was like a father, and I know that Danny felt the same—that Gilbert was like a son
Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the couple helped fund the St. Jude Hollywood Gala. Their generosity has not gone unrecognized.
“In 1985 my father honored Gilbert with what he considered the highest award, which was the Founder’s Award,” says Thomas’ daughter Terre Thomas. In 1988 Rose Marie was named the hospital’s Woman of the Year, and in 1990 Gilbert was named Man of the Year. “They loved our parents, and our parents loved them,” Terre says. “They are truly wonderful people.”
The couple has continued to support St. Jude by underwriting the food and beverages for all four years of Runway For Life®, the hospital’s premier Los Angeles fundraiser. The event was co-founded by Terre Thomas and close family friend Robert Ellis in 2002 as a way to continue the work of Danny Thomas in the Los Angeles area. Since its inception, the event has raised more than $5.25 million thanks to the commitment of people like the Chagourys.
“The Chagourys have been our ‘Guardian Angels,’ which is the highest title we can give anyone,” Terre says. “Their generosity, commitment and enthusiasm are enough to light a city. We’ve truly been blessed to have them in our lives as our friends and in our efforts to save the lives of the children of the world.”
Reprinted from Autumn 2006 Promise.