Golfers brave rain to raise funds for cancer

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 30, 2005

Cancer stole Larry Branch and Kay Gillette from this world. But on Friday, hundreds of their friends and family members braved the cold, rainy weather to raise thousands in their memory on Suffolk’s golf courses.

While the third annual Branch Memorial Tournament raised more than $10,000 for the Relay for Life at the Suffolk Golf Course (SGC), the first (and hopefully annual) tournament in Gillette’s memory brought in roughly $50,000 for the Accelerate Brain Cancer Cure organization at the Nansemond River Golf Club.

&uot;Larry never played golf and neither have I,&uot; said Branch tourney co- coordinator Marvin Winslow, setting up for the post-event dinner, &uot;but he had a lot of friends who played.&uot;

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A longtime electrician at Lipton Tea, Branch fought colon cancer for three years before succumbing in 2002. Friday’s event was the second time it had been held at the SGC.

&uot;He was a well-liked person, and this is how we’re keeping him alive,&uot; Winslow said.

Local businesses such as Baron’s Pub, Chick-Fil-A, Belk and Herb’s Barbecue gave donations, and Hardee’s, Roy and Ricky’s and Supreme Food offered culinary samples.

The tournament keeps increasing, said Branch’s son Craig.

&uot;It gets bigger and better every year,&uot; he said. &uot;I feel great about it, because it’s a great cause, and hopefully someday they’ll find a cure for cancer.&uot;

Wearing a wide-brimmed hat to protect his eyes from the hydration, co-coordinator Harry Chavis whacked a drive down the damp fairway.

&uot;Everybody wanted to know if we were going to quit today,&uot; Chavis said, &uot;but we had 27 teams sign up, and 24 showed up (roughly 150 golfers played). Larry was the type of guy that was always there for everybody. He was a fighter until the end, and we’re going to continue the fight for him.&uot;

Between teaching math at Nansemond-Suffolk Academy and making music at Oakland- and Suffolk Christian Church, Gillette was a familiar face on golf courses across the state.

&uot;She was a common sight here, at the Suffolk Golf Course, everywhere,&uot; said Gillette’s daughter, Jennifer Miller, whose mother lost her fight with brain cancer in January.

&uot;She was very aware that we were going to (hold the tournament). She gave us a lot of ideas on how to make it fun.

&uot;Our goal is to make this an annual event. It’s been a great tournament. We were a little wary about the rain, but we didn’t get down, because the spirit of giving is here and ever so present.&uot;

It didn’t bother school Superintendent Milton Liver-man.

&uot;Everybody who plays in this is a winner anyway,&uot; he said. &uot;This is for a great cause.&uot;

BB&T, Oakland Christian Church and Smithfield Gwaltney were three on a long list of sponsors of the tournament, which was followed by a live auction.