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The Epicest: Dean Jarrett Annual Golf Tournament raises $12,800 for Massey

Nov 19, 2021

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Dean Jarrett was an epic person. 

A native Virginian and proud Richmonder, Dean was a golf enthusiast, a lover of travel and adventure and a skilled communicator. He was a big-hearted giver who was always ready to share a smile. More than anything, Dean Jarrett was a loving husband, father and friend. He cherished spending time with his family, vacationing in Emerald Isle, golfing with friends, especially his son, Will, and always living life to the fullest. 

“Dean made everyone in his path feel seen and cared for,” said his wife of 28 years, Mary Kay Jarrett, who is also a lead nurse practitioner at VCU Health’s Pauley Heart Center, Division of Cardiology. “He always had a smile to share or a compliment to give.”

Dean Jarrett passed away in December 2019 following a brave 16-month battle with glioblastoma, the most common and most malignant primary brain tumor. He was 59 years old.

Following his death, Dean’s family invited donations to VCU Massey Cancer Center to support Massey’s neuro-oncology program, led by Mark G. Malkin, M.D., where he was treated, to support patient advocacy and research to treat and fight brain cancers like Dean’s.

The Epicest Golf Tournament

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Dean loved and lived life to the fullest, and was in turn, beloved by everyone who knew him.  He used to say, the joys of living made life “more fun than a barrel of monkeys.”

The world was a better place with Dean Jarrett in it, and even in loss, those who knew him were inspired to give his death meaning, and to have some fun in the process.

On September 27, 2021, Mary Kay, the Jarrett’s son Will, daughter Cate, and brother-in-law Kevin Orsi helped to organize the inaugural Dean Jarrett Annual Golf Tournament to benefit the neuro-oncology program at Massey.  They called it “The Epicest,” a term that had special meaning for Dean, and it was organized through The Dean Jarrett Foundation which was incorporated in July 2021.

“Epicest,” Dean’s friends will tell you, was invented years ago by Dean to describe the most epic and monumental moments in life. Dean had a lot of epicest moments. In fact, his whole outlook on life was Epicest. The word now has a place in the Urban Dictionary, which defines it as “the most epic” or “something way better than anything else in the world.”  

Dean had a way with words, a quick wit and a collection of quotes and jokes that he would use to put others at ease. His communications expertise was honed over 30 years as chief communications officer at The Martin Agency, where as a member of the senior leadership team he helped grow the firm to national prominence.

“Dean was a one-of-a-kind guy and it was necessary for us to create a unique experience,” Orsi said about the tournament - an event that lived up to its billing.

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The Epicest tournament was held at the Independence Golf Club in Midlothian and featured unique on-course challenges, an after-party with music and lots of fun and laughs. Despite being the first year, the tournament sold out with 88 golfers (22 foursomes) with golfers traveling from as far away as Seattle, Dallas and Minnesota. Lead sponsors The Knuckleheads and Friends of Dean, Virginia Green and The Hodges Partnership stepped up to provide financial support for the tournament, along with local (and not so local) sponsors Firehouse, an ad agency in Dallas, The Flying Elvises, Go Happy, Level 4 Designs, The Martin Agency, Party of Nine, Sanford’s Tribe (Robin Boisseau and Eric Howard) and WTOP News.

The tournament raised more than $12,800 to advance neuro-oncology research and patient advocacy at Massey in its first year, with donations still rolling in.

Epicest image 4 Pictured, from left to right:  Will Jarrett, Kyle Brinkley, Owen Thatcher, Hunter Wines

“Our event was initiated with two main goals,” Orsi said, “to celebrate Dean by doing something that he loved and to continue the fight against brain cancer.”

Jarrett hopes that their fundraising will help ensure that “families like ours will not have to suffer this kind of loss.”

“When you donate towards our fundraising goal, you join our team effort to support brain cancer research, honor those who have battled this disease and unite our community towards a cure. Let's knock out the disease that took Dean and so many others from us far too soon,” the tournament website says.

Neuro-oncology at Massey

Malkin, who is the William G. Reynolds, Jr. Chair in Neuro-Oncology at Massey, was among those who attended to represent Massey’s neuro-oncology team and show his support.  

“Dean Jarrett was a class act,” Malkin said. “The way he lived his life and the way he faced his illness was a testament to Dean’s strength and the power of positivity. Whenever he came to clinic, right up until the end, Dean would always say, ‘We are going to beat this thing, and when we do, you and I are going on a cross-country speaking tour to tell everybody about it.’ Unfortunately, that didn’t come to pass, but Dean’s legacy did not stop with cancer; it was abundant at The Epicest tournament, and I am proud to have been a part of it.

Epicest image 5 Pictured, left to right: Rick Reese, John Harper, Mark Malkin, M.D., and Larry Loving, Jr.

“For any event, especially a first-time event, to raise over $12,000, it is an incredible feat. I look forward to next year.”  

Malkin spoke about the impact of the event and financial contribution to Massey. “I promised all in attendance that the money raised at the tournament through the generosity of the participants and sponsors would be used in the most responsible way to help treat, cure and, ultimately, prevent brain cancer,” he said.

Last May, in honor of Brain Cancer Awareness Month, Malkin and the neuro-oncology team, including neuropsychologist and director of VCU’s  LiveNOW Lab Ashlee Loughan, Ph.D., Zhijian Chen, M.D., Ph.D., Alicia Zukas, M.D., and Robin Boisseau, the team’s administrative assistant and patient advocate (who has her own personal connection to brain cancer, having lost her husband to the disease), hosted a virtual panel discussion highlighting recent advances in neuro-oncology. The panel emphasized current clinical trials, critical breakthroughs and recent advances in neuro-oncology that are improving treatment  for patients with brain cancer.

Massey’s neuro-oncology program is currently leading or participating in seven clinical trials specific to neuro-oncology, including two new trials for glioblastoma. Loughan, armed with a new $1.5 million grant from the Department of Defense, launched a new study to examine and expand a novel approach to care for patients’ and family members’ emotional health following a brain cancer diagnosis. Managing Cancer and Living Meaningfully, or CALM, is a novel psychotherapeutic intervention to help reduce distress and improve the quality of life for people living with advanced brain cancer. Loughan completed a year-long training process and became the first CALM-certified therapist in the United States in August 2020.

Massey is the only cancer center in the world to offer CALM to brain cancer patients. 

A legacy of positivity

The care that Dean received from the neuro-oncology team reminds Jarrett of a Maya Angelou quote: “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” She credits Boisseau with being a strong patient advocate and a lifeline throughout their journey.  “Robin provides such an important support system for patients,” she said. “She was, for us, a liaison, a point of contact, a source of information, a coordinator, a navigator, a shoulder to cry on and so much more.”

Epicest image 6 Pictured at left: Leah Jarrett and Bob Price

Scattered around the tournament, on various tees and greens, signs rang with quotes made famous by Dean – quotes like: “Busier than a one-legged man in a butt kickin’ contest”; “I might have been born at night, but I wasn’t born last night”; and “If I were any better, I’d be you.”  The signs were a way to make sure Dean’s presence was felt on the course.

Another of those tournament signs read: “Is this not the greatest day ever?”  With over $12,800 raised and lots of laughs, September 27, the day of the first The Epicest tournament, certainly was pretty great.   

Whatever the source of the word “epicest,” there is no question that Dean Jarrett was it.

Epicest obituary photo Dean Jarrett

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