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How One Mom Honored her Son’s Last Wish

In 1990 at age 22, David Saltzman died from Hodgkin’s disease, a kind of cancer. Before he died, as his senior project at Yale University, David wrote a book he titled The Jester, a fun and heartwarming story about a medieval jester on a quest with his helpmate Pharley to find the laughter that has gone missing in their kingdom. They ultimately learn that despite all the pain and sadness in the world, one’s laughter is actually found within. It’s a great lesson about resilience and inner strength.

When David passed, his family promised to see his book published and to share its delightful and empowering message of “finding the laughter within” with children all over the United States coping with cancer. They knew that David wanted these children to be able to find pure, unadulterated joy, through The Jester’s colorful antics, as he did.

Barbara, aka, “The Jester’s Mom” became the project’s guiding light. An editor for the Los Angeles Times prior to publishing her son’s book and creating The Jester & Pharley Phund charity, she has worked tirelessly since David’s passing: traveling the country, speaking at schools, hospitals, libraries and bookstores, inspiring hundreds of thousands of children over the past twenty years to find their own strength and smiles, and also to demonstrate that it’s up to individuals like her (and us!) to make a difference in the emotional lives of children facing serious illness.

When asked what keeps her working so tirelessly on The Jester project, Barbara claims that “This book has made such a huge difference in turning children’s sadness upside-down, the children who really need it most, and it’s made a great difference in so many adult lives as well—there’s no way I can’t continue to be involved in trying to help people with it! It has expanded way beyond pediatric cancer and helps kids and parents facing any kind of adversity.”

In recognition of the twentieth anniversary of The Jester Has Lost His Jingle, CBS Sunday Morning interviewed Barbara Saltzman, her husband and son Michael in a wonderful segment about The Jester on its May 10, 2015, Mother’s Day show. Watch that interview here.

Now one of Barbara’s greatest joys is seeing a generation of Jester fans all grown up and sharing the book with their own children, students, patients, etc. or giving back to the community because of lessons they learned from The Jester. Barbara says David would be thrilled knowing he has helped and inspired so many beyond his wildest imagination.

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