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Tacoma MD and Relay for Life founder dies

Posted on Aug. 5, 2014 ( comments)
Dr. Gordon Klatt
Dr. Gordon "Gordy" Klatt, the man who started a global cancer phenomenon

Dr. Gordon "Gordy" Klatt was a Tacoma colorectal surgeon for more than 40 years, but he’s better known as the man who started a phenomenon.

He died earlier this month following a period of ill health caused by stomach cancer and a heart condition. Klatt was 71.

The popular Tacoma doctor founded Relay for Life in the mid-80s. He started the event as a one-man fundraiser for the American Cancer Society, running a grueling 24 hours around a local track. He covered 83 miles and raised $27,000.

The experience gave Klatt the idea of 24-hour relay teams running to raise money for cancer research. The next year, the first official Relay for Life had its humble beginnings in Tacoma. The event eventually grew into an annual global icon in the fight to cure cancer, inspiring millions of survivors and raising more than $5 billion through 5000 events. 

Klatt was diagnosed with cancer in 2012. An outpouring of encouragement prompted him to write to American Cancer Society members:

“The response to my cancer battle has given me an overwhelming feeling of support. The fact that Relay for Life has reached so many people in all corners of the world is a great satisfaction to me. I have good doctors, caregivers, medicines and supporters everywhere. This cancer is in big trouble.”

More recently, a committee was formed to raise funds for a Tacoma monument that will honor Klatt and commemorate the start of Relay for Life. The monument’s location is yet to be announced.

Klatt is one of five local physicians honored in bas-relief sculptures in the new Rainier Pavilion, which opened this year at MultiCare Tacoma General Hospital. MultiCare Health System was fortunate to welcome Klatt and his family to a luncheon in January that honored the legacy of these Tacoma leaders.

Klatt is survived by his wife, Lou; three children Julie Sullivan, Lisa Steudel and David Klatt; five grandchildren; sister, Kathy and brother, Don.

Dr. Gordon

Dr. Gordon Klatt (left), Lou Klatt and longtime Klatt friend, Harvey Rosen

About The Author

susan woodward Susan Woodward
Susan Woodward is our Executive Communications Specialist and a former newspaper reporter who has written for multiple publications in the United States and Australia. You can reach her at [email protected]. More stories by this author
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