Collage of pictures from the 1980 opening of the Ronald McDonald House of Washington, DC

A Foundation of Love

How RMHCDC Began

More than forty years ago, one mother’s love and determination sparked a movement to build the first Ronald McDonald House of Washington, D.C.

In 1973 Carey and Don Randall received the devastating news of their three-year-old son, Rick’s, diagnosis of leukemia.  Rick began three years of successful  treatment at Children’s National Hospital.

The frequent trips to and from the Hospital were stressful and exhausting, though they lived in Arlington, a relatively close distance.  They recognized how difficult more distant travel would affect families.

At the time, there were 15 Ronald McDonald Houses in the country—a new, powerful resource for helping families stay together when their child needs medical care.

As a member of the Washington, D.C. Candlelighters, a childhood cancer parent support and advocacy group, Carey was deeply rooted in the community and accustomed to advocating for a good cause.  Her social worker, Sandy Butcher, brought Ronald McDonald House to her attention.  Carey had read of the first RMH in Pennsylvania.

When Sandy asked if I would initiate a RMH in Washington, I was enthusiastic for the opportunity to help make a difference for the families that would come after us, so they would be able to stay close to their ill child,” remembers Carey.

At Sandy’s suggestion, two other parents of children stricken with cancer, Irv Myers and Herb Reines, were quickly recruited and together met with local McDonald’s Owner/Operators to gain their support.

They flew to Chicago, accompanied by Sandy and Dr. Sanford Leikin, head of Children’s Hematology-Oncology, seeking approval at a meeting with representatives of McDonald’s Board of Directors.  There was immediate agreement to establish a Ronald McDonald House in our nation’s capitol. 

The task of finding a suitably sized property at an affordable price near Children’s began.  After searching for months, an agreement was reached to purchase an old Spanish-style colonial with 16 bedrooms from an order of nuns on Quincy St., N.E.  While Irv worked with Donahue Construction on plans for the massive renovation, Herb and Carey divvied up soliciting signatures for a petition from the neighbors supporting a “home-away-from-home” and negotiating with the D.C. authorities for the necessary zoning variance and permits – a grassroots activity!

Carey reminisces about the hectic days: Local McDonald’s restaurants raised funds through the sale of Shamrock Shakes, Don Randall’s law firm donated the founding legal documents and recruited a prominent law firm to continue with legal issues as they arose; the Sullivans and Greenwoods (parent families) became active; Joe Fisher, Kathy Szymanski, Norbert Kraich, Redskin Mark Mosely – all donated  in their areas of expertise, and most importantly, the community supported the effort.

The nation’s 16th House opened June 6, 1980, proclaimed Ronald McDonald House Day by the Mayor.

Carey wrote a letter to Barbara Bush, inviting her to join the Board of the new charity.  Mrs. Bush was an active supporter of the Washington House and later became national spokesperson for the charity.

When Mrs. Bush and Rick Randall met at a reception she hosted In the White House, she said to him:
“No matter what you may or may not do in your life, you have had an impact on thousands of families.”

And he has.  Though Rick completed his well-lived life in 2018 when he was 48 as the result of a secondary cancer, his legacy and those of forty years ago, lives on through the thousands of families we serve each year.