Jackie Callaway and Michele Green shared a special bond during their early 20s.
Like many young women, they went out to eat, watched movies and just enjoyed sharing stories in a small Central Florida community north of Tampa.
Through the years, they kept in touch as Callaway's broadcasting career took her to a radio station in Tampa, then to a television station in Orlando. Michele blossomed too, working at an insurance agency and becoming the quintessential soccer mom with two young children.
One day in the late 1990s, Jackie was preparing to do a live shot in Lake County for the Orlando station. A car pulled over and a voice called out, "Hey Jackie, it's Michele."
"Her mom was driving, and I didn't recognize Michele, the vibrant light of a person I knew," said Callaway, now the consumer reporter for WFTS-Ch. 28. "She tells me right there on the side of the road that she has multiple sclerosis. She starts crying, and I'm fighting back tears.
"From then on, we stayed connected."
Callaway began visiting Michele on a regular basis, first at Michele's home, then at a nursing home as the MS slowly took her life.
"I had never experienced anything like that," Callaway said. "I was clueless about MS until watching Michele go through it. I kept asking friends, can't we do something about this terrible disease?"
Michele died in 2002, but Callaway's passion to help lives on.
Six years ago, she went to the local MS Society with a simple request: put me to work. She has dedicated time to raising funds for the Multiple Sclerosis Society, including a stint as honorary chair of the society's annual Tampa Walk.
Along the way, she met Ben and Ande Felder and got involved with their casino night fundraiser called MaSquerade. The Felders, one of my favorite families, have staged the event since 2002 and each and every dime goes to the MS Society. Callaway will be on hand for the seventh annual MaSquerade on Saturday.
Driven by the fact that their daughter, Megan, deals with the daily challenges of MS, Ben, Ande, Megan and sister Jenna work nine months out of the year for this one grand night. They have gone from an inaugural event that netted $7,000 to the 2007 event that raised more than $20,000.
Megan's unyielding zest for life inspires all who attend.
Unfortunately, a previous commitment will keep me from attending this year. But I've put together a gift basket for the silent auction that includes four tickets in the tbt* Party Deck for Thursday's Rays game against the Minnesota Twins, two tickets to the USF-University of Pittsburgh football game, two Lightning tickets in the Times suite and — drumroll — lunch with me at 220 East on Davis Islands.
I expect big bids because of the tickets, not for the chance to dine with me (though the food is really good at 220 East). I also expect big bids because something good should come from the cruelty of such a debilitating disease. Like a cure.
That's all I'm saying.