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Michael J. Fox: reluctant leader

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Like Gideon in biblical times and Coretta Scott King in our own, actor Michael J. Fox wasn’t exactly thrilled about his call to leadership.

Famous for playing boyish roles in Back to the Future movies and the TV show Family Ties, Fox never would have begun championing research on Parkinson’s disease if he hadn’t been diagnosed with it himself at age 30.

Even then, he balked, hiding his affliction from the public for seven years. When he could no longer hide the symptoms, Fox went public in 1998, certain that it would destroy his acting career.

Several Parkinson’s groups approached Fox about becoming their spokesman, but in the end, he decided to go it alone, setting up a foundation dedicated to research.

“Left to my own devices,” he says, “I wouldn’t have been so inspiring.”

However reluctant at first, Fox dedicated his foundation to finding a cure for Parkinson’s within a decade. Since 2000, the group has provided $55 million in grants to scientists, paring down the typical review process and doling out $100,000 a pop for the most promising research.

Today, Fox is the disease’s public face and a passionate leader in search of a cure … because he won’t let Parkinson’s win. Fox attributes his doggedness to coming from a family of soldiers. His father was a career officer in the Canadian army, and his uncles fought in World War II.

Fox remembers telling them that he didn’t know how they withstood the pressures of war; he was sure he’d throw down his weapon and run.

“How do you not do that?” he asked them. Duty, they answered. You show up and do your job.

So, that’s what Fox does, although, he says, “There’s always a moment of surprise that I didn’t throw down my gun and run away.”

—Adapted from “10 People Who Improved Our World,” David Dudley, AARP Magazine.

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