September 2010

Meet Martha Atherton - September 2010 - Connections - Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
World travelers Martha Atherton and
her husband Bob, who passed away
last year, have supported the CF Foundation for more than 50 years.

Meet Martha Atherton: World Traveler & Dedicated Volunteer

At age 82, Martha Atherton embraces adventure. Like her late husband Bob, who passed away last year, she just can’t pass up an opportunity to travel the world, learn something new or lend a helping hand.

“I still push myself, and I love it,” she says. “That’s the way Bob and I have always lived.”

During the couple’s marriage of 52 years, they traveled together to over 100 countries and lent their support to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to battle the disease that has profoundly impacted their lives. Through the charitable trust Bob and Martha arranged several years ago, they’ll continue helping families affected by CF for many years to come.

Traveling the World as a Young Couple

Martha and Bob’s story of adventure, love, loss and philanthropy begins in 1957 on a Chicago park bench, where after three dates, the couple planned out their future together. “We talked about what our lives could be like together, agreeing that our priorities would be work, travel and family,” she says. Nine months later they were married.

The next year they took a break from work — Bob as founder of Raco Industrial Corp., a machinery dealer, and Martha as an investment analyst — and began a four-month honeymoon traveling around the world.

Together they rafted down rivers, visited temples and learned the history of various cultures, places and religions. “It was one fantastic honeymoon,” Martha says.

Less than a year after returning from their honeymoon, Bob and Martha welcomed a son, Robert David, into the world. “He was a wonderful little baby with a tremendously big problem — cystic fibrosis,” Martha says. At four months old, Robert passed away from the disease.

Taking on the CF Cause

Grieving from their tragic loss yet determined to take action against the disease, Bob and Martha began volunteering with the Greater Illinois Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. The couple made phone calls to raise awareness and funds, and Bob joined the chapter board, which he served on for 25 years.

In 1960 with their second son, John Curry, in tow, Martha assisted Bob while he directed the first two door-to-door CF fundraising campaigns in the Chicago area. “I remember pushing John around in his little baby buggy and then later a stroller, setting out canisters in stores,” she says. “Our apartment living room warehoused boxes of CF campaign literature and canisters for the fundraising.”

John, who does not have CF, became a big brother when Martha and Bob had their third child, Richard Hillary. Richard was diagnosed with CF shortly after birth and passed away at age 13.

One of Martha’s fondest memories of Richard was the six-week trip they took to Europe. “We packed up all his CF equipment and took it with us,” Martha remembers. “He was an intelligent boy and very charismatic. People thought he was very special and spunky, and it was devastating to lose such a wonderful child.”

While dealing with their loss, Martha and Bob continued to find hope and solace in supporting the CF Foundation and helping to improve and extend the lives of those living with the disease.

Leaving a Legacy of Hope

The Athertons have tirelessly supported the Foundation for more than 50 years, and several years ago, they arranged a charitable trust to benefit the CF Foundation after their lifetimes.

When planning their estate gifts, Martha says their decision to support the CF Foundation was motivated by their personal experience with the disease and the proven efficacy of the organization.

“Our family has been able to take some big hits, yet there’s a strength that carries on,” Martha says. “By thinking outside of ourselves, the feeling of grief is somewhat alleviated because we’re sharing stories and experiences with people from many cultures and with many differing perspectives.”

“We know that the CF Foundation is a very well-run and highly rated organization, and we have read about its accomplishments over the years. It’s a good feeling when you hear that people are living longer and are able to do more things they enjoy.”

Planned Giving: Another Way to Make a Lasting Impact

Through their charitable trust, Martha and Bob Atherton are helping to ensure that the CF Foundation’s mission — finding a cure for CF — is supported well into the future. Here are some other ways to arrange a gift that will help us add tomorrows every day.

  • A gift in your will: By including a simple bequest in your will or living trust, you can make a gift to the CF Foundation without affecting your current income or cash flow.
  • A gift of retirement plan assets: Using a simple form, you can name the CF Foundation as beneficiary of your retirement plan assets.
  • To learn more about planned giving and how to include the CF Foundation in your estate plans, contact the Foundation's Office of Planned Giving at at 800-FIGHT-CF or e-mail plannedgiving@cff.org.

back to top