On a single summer day in 1990, Mahmoud Ghannoum’s life changed completely.
The research scientist was speaking at a conference in Washington, D.C., while his wife and children continued their family vacation in England.
But then, on Aug. 2, Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. And Ghannoum, a professor at Kuwait University, suddenly lost his job, his home, and any way to access his bank accounts.
The conference was not the kind where he might land a job in the U.S. Another meeting, the following week, would be full of interview opportunities.
Problem was, Ghannoum had no money to stay—much less to pay to change his flight.
But then he met Jimmy Dorsey, a travel agent based in a local hotel. Dorsey not only changed his flight, but also arranged for a side trip to Milwaukee, where Ghannoum had a friend who could host him for a few days. Deeply grateful, Ghannoum began to leave. The agent stopped him, pulling $80 out of his wallet to give Ghannoum some spending money.
This past Sunday, Ghannoum was back in the greater D.C. area. Nearly 30 years later, he is globally recognized as the scientist who named the mycobiome—perhaps best known today in connection with gut health. He’s published hundreds of journal articles, been cited by other scientists thousands of times and, this summer, won a $3 million federal grant to build on earlier breakthroughs that hold promise for helping people with Crohn’s disease.
Ghannoum often told the story of his gratitude to the stranger whose kindness so profoundly affected his life—and, by extension, so many others. Because the travel agency had closed the following year, he’d never had the chance to thank him in person. It wasn’t until this fall, when Ghannoum’s son, Afif, put the story on Facebook, that the mystery was finally solved.
The Washington Post published a follow-up on Afif’s social media post, and soon after a reader wrote that the stranger sounded a lot like her boss at the time—Jimmy Dorsey, a Cleveland native, Vietnam veteran and volunteer firefighter. Sadly, cancer had taken his life the previous February, but Afif and the Post reporter eventually connected with his widow, Elaine.
Sure enough, she remembered Jimmy telling the very same story. The final proof came when she sent a photo of Dorsey as a young man. Ghannoum immediately recognized his rescuer, and the two families made plans to meet.
“He [gave] me the passion and the optimism that the world is good,” the elder Ghannoum said, “because people like him are out there.”
This weekend, the families came together for the first time. Ghannoum and his son decided they needed to do more than simply thank Elaine and her son Aaron. They came bearing gifts, specifically a plaque in Jimmy’s honor—and news that they had committed $25,000 to a scholarship fund at Case Western Reserve in his name.
“He was an outstanding man,” Elaine said of her late husband. “He was my knight in shining armor.”
On Monday, the Post recounted Sunday’s gathering, including mention of the new scholarship fund. People quickly began inquiring about how they too could give. Here’s the answer:
- Visit the online giving site (https://tinyurl.com/z6xooba), choose “other area,” and in the “Special Instructions” box, write “Jimmy Dorsey Scholarship Fund.”
- Mail: Checks should be made payable to “Case Western Reserve University” with a note “Jimmy Dorsey Scholarship Fund.” They should be sent to Case Western Reserve University, 11000 Cedar Avenue, #300, Cleveland, OH 44106-7035. Case Western Reserve University, Advancement Services