Wendell Mayes, Jr.

Published February 2009

“When you live long enough, it's bound to happen!" exclaims Wendell Mayes, Jr.

Whether it is a remark on the number of great grandchildren (7), academic degrees (4) or years married (62) to his wife, Mary Jane, Mayes enjoys casually disregarding these feats with a wave of his hand and a grin, blaming his successes, whether personal or professional, on his seasoned age. 

At 84-years-young, Mayes is officially the Oldest Living Former Chairman of the Board, as it proudly states on his American Diabetes Association business card.

In most people's estimations, however, all of Mayes' accomplishments have been earned through hard work and generosity of spirit. Despite his good-natured, self-deprecating humor, Mayes has indeed lived an extraordinary and meaningful life.

In particular, Mayes has touched the lives of millions of people affected by diabetes. For the last 40 years, Mayes has helped the Association grow from a start-up professional society to the world-renowned, "bigger and better" health organization it is today.

A resident of Austin, Texas, Mayes currently lives near his hometown of Brownwood, where he continued in the footsteps of his father and grandfather by working in the media. Educated at Texas Tech in electrical engineering, Mayes quickly became a radio broadcasting and cable television executive, owning half a dozen radio stations in Texas.

With significant influence and prosperity, Mayes and his wife, Mary Jane, established a life of philanthropy. "I have been very fortunate in this life," Mayes says. "I do not take that for granted, so it seems appropriate to me to give back," he plainly states.

Personal Connection to Diabetes

However, one cause in particular struck the businessman as especially important. In 1966, Wendell Mayes, III, his youngest child after sisters Cathey Jane and Sarah Joyce, was diagnosed with diabetes at age nine. "Like any parents who see their child sick," says Mayes, "we wanted to do everything and anything to help him."

Wendell III's pediatrician told the Mayes family that the best way to make a positive impact on diabetes would be to volunteer for the American Diabetes Association. Although the Association was only a little more than 25-years-old with a relatively small budget, the Mayes family learned that the organization was the "best opportunity to make a person with diabetes better," he says.

For nearly 20 years since its inception in 1940, the American Diabetes Association had been a professional society of volunteer scientists and clinicians, funding a handful of research and educational projects on a budget of about $5 million. While Wendell III was going through his own stages of growing pains and dealing with his illness, the Association was struggling through its changes as well.

In the 1960s, the structure of the American Diabetes Association began to include volunteers who did or do not have a medical background leading to Mayes' most prominent positions at the Association. Mayes became National Director from 1971-1978 and ultimately, the American Diabetes Association's second Chairman of the Board in 1974 through 1977.

Laying the Groundwork for Change

Mayes, along with several other volunteers with business backgrounds laid the groundwork for a larger, "more comprehensive" Association. With emphasis on research, special events, advocacy, education, and fundraising, the structure of the organization changed dramatically for the better. The organization’s business plan that Mayes helped build is the same that fueled the inception of the Research Foundation decades later.

At the inception of the Research Foundation in 1994, Mr. and Mrs. Mayes became Pinnacle Society and Summit Circle members, designating their gifts to support lifesaving diabetes research. Today, Mayes continues to encourage people touched by diabetes to support the Foundation. For example, in late 2008, Mayes visited with Bob Shieffer (see photo), veteran newsman from CBS, who also happens to have type 2 diabetes.

Diagnosed later in life with type 2 diabetes, Mayes' impact has not gone unnoticed. The Association honored him in 1986 with the first Wendell Mayes, Jr. Medal for Outstanding Service, the highest non-scientific award in the diabetes arena to date. The Association also honored him with four additional service awards throughout the years.

Meanwhile, as an adult, Wendell III had made progress with his type 1 diabetes, although still waiting for a cure. "Today, my son wears a continuous glucose monitor to evaluate the state of his diabetes," says Mayes. "This technology is a direct result of research funded by the American Diabetes Association."

Concern for Others

After a forty-year-long relationship with the organization, Mayes looks back. "I became initially interested in the American Diabetes Association to improve my son's life," says Mayes. "Although a cure has not been discovered yet, another priority of the organization was and is to make the lives of people with diabetes better," he continues.

"I know my son's life is better because of this organization. That was my goal." Although his son was the primary reason for his interest in the organization, Mayes emphatically states, "I stayed with the organization, because I believe in the broad mission of the Association."

"Wendell represents what is best about our organization. His long-term volunteer and philanthropic dedication to the American Diabetes Association and its Research Foundation is inspirational," says Research Foundation Chair, Ralph Yates. "The number of years and ways the Mayes family have supported us has been unparalleled. It is clear that Wendell holds the Association in very high esteem, for which we are extremely honored. We reciprocate that admiration ten-fold."

In this case, this mutual respect is clear. When Mayes was Chairman of the Board, he once said that the American Diabetes Association is "an organization in which people demonstrate love for one another. Not an abstract or inanimate love, but the love of concern. Concern for others who share the same cause... concern for one another gives the Association a unity of purpose..."