Meet Billy Gilchrist – Chairman of the Robin Kaplan Memorial Golf Tournament

Billy answers our questions about his former co-worker and friend who had Crohn’s disease. He shares about the annual Memorial Golf Tournament created in her honor after she lost her life on 9/11. It’s been a passion of his to keep Robin’s memory alive and carry forward her dreams of helping children with IBD and research efforts.

Billy G. Patient PanelBefore we talk about the golf tournament, how did you become friends with Robin?

Robin and I both started working for TJX Companies at their corporate office in 1993 and went through new hire orientation together. We worked in the same department for five of her eight years there. We quickly bonded because we were both new to the company and also had open and fun personalities. We talked all the time. Robin’s mother also worked for TJX so I got to know her too. 


What was Robin’s connection to IBD before sadly losing her life on 9/11?
Robin had Crohn’s disease. She went through a lot of dark periods where she had to stay home from work locked in her bedroom because she was so ill. A few of us would often stop by to check on her and lend our support. Learning about the distressing and painful symptoms that my brave friend was dealing with was an eye opening introduction to Crohn’s disease. It was during these wellness checks on Robin that I was very fortunate to get to know both her parents well. 


Did Robin volunteer for the New England Chapter or have future plans to do so?
Robin had many challenges with her Crohn’s. We had lots of private conversations about her disease. She always said when she got better she wanted to focus on helping children with IBD and research. The first one or two years after Robin’s passing, the New England Chapter temporarily renamed the Boston Take Steps Walk to Robin’s Walk. Robin’s family, friends, and co-workers also came together to discuss what else we could we do to honor her. It just so happened we were all golfers. So the group of us decided to put together a tournament and see how it goes. I’d say it went well because we’ve been going strong now for 19 years! 


When did you become Chairman and what does your role entail?
This is my 9th year in the Chairman role. To clarify, I was involved with the tournament from the get-go in a large volunteering capacity which included running the event itself. Once I took over as Chairman from the predecessor, my duties focused on coordinating the golf courses we play on, reaching out to past and present sponsors, and being the emcee at every event. I want to give credit to our team of 11 volunteer committee members who are each responsible for specific tasks. It’s because of everybody’s individual contributions that our golf tournaments have been so successful.


The memorial golf tournament has accomplished a lot. Can you expand? 
First it was a one day event — basically a day of golf and dinner. Over time, we expanded the tournament into a one and a half day larger event (with overnight stay). For instance, the night before the golf tournament we have a formal sit-down dinner that I emcee. There are planned speakers focused on educating our golfers and sponsors about our mission, IBD, Camp Oasis, etc. We also have a local comedian perform which is a big hit. We include extra fun activities on the course during the golf tournament, hold live and silent auctions throughout the event, have raffle prizes, and more. The annual tournaments keep flourishing as we continue to sell out tickets. To-date, we’ve raised a grand total close to $2.3 million dollars! These funds were donated to Camp Oasis for kids who have Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. In 2020 (when camps were closed due to COVID) I worked with our Chapter’s Executive Director to fund several IBD research projects. Lastly, I want to thank TJX Companies for their long-standing generosity as the tournament’s umbrella sponsor since inception. 


What makes donating proceeds to Camp Oasis and Crohn’s & Colitis research so meaningful?
The driving force is for Robin. She wanted to help children with IBD. It’s still Robin helping kids, not me. She wanted to educate that Crohn’s and colitis are much more than “bathroom” diseases. That’s a huge reason why we have speakers from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation including Camp Oasis. Another reason is we believe it’s important that people know how our tournament funds are being used.


How has being involved in this way helped enrich your life?
It’s been extremely gratifying and worth the time and effort. I’ve actually visited the Camp Oasis site in New York several times. Seeing the incredible experience for these kids is all the reward I need to continue this legacy. It’s a beautiful thing. 


Any special moments to share from a prior tournament?
Yes! Robin’s parents come to every tournament. They are part of our committee. Last year it was the 20th anniversary of 9/11, so we decided to do something big to surprise them. To give you some context, Framingham, Massachusetts has a memorial garden for all of the passengers who were aboard the ill-fated planes that day from Logan Airport. We purchased a park bench engraved with Robin’s name (for people to come and reflect) and a bird house (to signify the birth of new life each year). As part of last year’s surprise, we showed our golfers and sponsors pictures of the bench and bird house. I purposely showed a blurry image of the bird house and kiddingly blamed the mishap on someone else. That was Robin’s brother’s cue to walk in with the actual bird house. I had secretly flown the Kaplan’s son home from Arizona. They were thrilled! Robin’s parents had not been able to see their son in two years. There wasn’t a dry eye among everyone there! 

To learn more about the Robin Kaplan Memorial Golf Tournament with all pertinent event details, visit: About Robin.