The Benevolent Ones: Bob Birdsong

Some of the area’s most successful business professionals pay it forward with philanthropic pursuits that make a difference in countless lives

President/CEO, OK Generators

Charitable involvements: 2-1-1 Broward, Broward Health Foundation, Junior Achievement of South Florida, and more

Why it’s personal: “My mother and my cousin were both victims of breast cancer, so that cause has become very important to me; when I aligned myself with Broward Health Foundation, I also aligned myself with Tammy Gail’s Glam-a-thon [which raises money for breast cancer initiatives]. But I will tell you, children and babies are my soft spot. The first time I walked into the neonatal intensive care unit at Broward Health, I wrote a tear-stained check. It was so touching to see these babies—which literally can fit in the palm of your hand—with tubes running in and out of them. Those doctors are giving them a real chance at life, where, four or five years ago, maybe they wouldn’t have had that chance. I actually had to rewrite that first check because my tears smeared the ink.”

Did you know: “My family was very middle-class, and not involved in the community at all. My philanthropy all came from being in business and getting to the point where I wanted to give back. … I was invited to a 2-1-1 Broward breakfast. I didn’t even know what 2-1-1 was at the time. I saw the work they were doing, and then I met with their development director at the time, who brought me onto the board. After six months, as fate would have it, the vice chair had to rotate off the board. A year after getting involved, I was chair of the board of 2-1-1. From there, I found other causes that interested me, and it’s grown from there. At one point, I was on nine different boards.”

Sources of pride: “As the foundation arm of Broward Health, we pick our causes. Two years ago, when I was chair, I was very proud that we raised $20.6 million to rename the Chris Evert Children’s Hospital as the Salah Foundation Children’s Hospital. We turned the neonatal [intensive care unit] into all private rooms with private nurses; it was a total transformation. The care always has been top notch, but to walk through and see families within arm’s distance of each other … a baby can be coding and dying three feet away from another family. It has to affect you. That doesn’t happen anymore. … I believe that’s going to be one of my legacies to the community—the total revitalization of that hospital.”

Words to live by: “There are almost 6,000 nonprofits registered in Broward County. All of these wonderful causes are fighting for the same dollars—and they all deserve the same dollars. If you’re a philanthropist, where do you give your money and your time? The answer is simple: You give to the causes that most touch your heart. … You want to help everyone, but at a certain point, you can’t. You spread yourself too thin. So, I had to do that. I had to figure out what mattered most to me and direct my efforts in those areas.”

 

Photography by James Woodley

Creative direction by Melanie Geronemus Smit

Edited by Kevin Kaminski and Keren Moros

Shot on location at C&I Studios in Fort Lauderdale

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