One on One: Buddy Palmer and Kate Kiefer


The seemingly separate worlds of breast cancer research and arts and culture advocacy came together in our one on one conversation this month between Buddy Palmer of Create Birmingham and Kate Kiefer of the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama.

One on One

Photos by Beau Gustafson

Palmer, a Selma native, came to Birmingham in 2008 to take charge of the Cultural Alliance of Greater Birmingham. That organization has now morphed into a new entity, Create Birmingham, with an enhanced mission to advocate for and support the engine that is the arts and culture sector of the metro economy.

Last year, the organization released a report titled “Stoking Innovation in the Magic City: Birmingham’s Creative Industries.” The report concluded that 22,754 jobs, or 4.68 percent of all the jobs in Jefferson County, resided in the creative sectors and that those generated $558 million annually in household earnings. That’s a big chunk of our economy, but for Palmer, it is more than that. The arts and culture of a city, defined broadly as encompassing art, design, food, crafts, and technology, is in fact the very soul of a place.

Palmer sees his organization’s role as nurturing that soul through developing and retaining talent, blending the arts with science and technology, building relationships with the broader business community, establishing Birmingham as a hub for design and developing creative districts, strengthening the music industry, and creating a prosperous and equitable food system.

Kiefer joined the Breast Cancer Research Foundation of Alabama board of directors in 2003 and currently serves as president of the board; she has been volunteering with the organization since its inception in 1996.

In December of 1995, the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center introduced two people who had a shared experience with breast cancer. Dolly O’Neal, an 18-month breast cancer survivor, was one of those people. The other was Bruce Sokol, whose wife, D. D., was undergoing breast cancer treatment at the time. The two shared a fervor to fight the disease and founded the BCRFA, which has raised nearly $4.5 million to fund research for a cure. The BCRFA provides funding to the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center through event sponsorships, donations, community fundraising, and through the sale of  “Funding Research…Saving Lives” specialty Alabama license plates. Upcoming events include the seventh annual Pink Palace Casino Night at Iron City on April 18, and the 20th annual Drive Out Breast Cancer Golf Tournament at Old Overton on May 18.

“Our research dollars allow the UAB CCC to successfully compete and receive sought-after and sustaining grant dollars, recruit and retain world-class breast cancer researchers, and seize every opportunity for groundbreaking discovery,” says Kiefer, who retired after long careers with both Kraft Foods and Southern Living. While never having had breast cancer herself, Kiefer is a 33-year survivor of melanoma cancer, benefiting from a clinical trial during her treatment. An Auburn grad, Kiefer lives in Birmingham and has a farm in Calera, where she loves to ride horses. “Breast cancer is the second most common cancer diagnosis in American women. As heartbreaking as these statistics are, we have great cause for hope. Thirty years ago, four out of five breast cancer patients lost their lives to this disease. Today, that statistic is reversed, with four out of five patients winning the battle against breast cancer.

“As you become involved with a foundation like the BCRFA and you see the wonderful work that the researchers, doctors, nurses, and staffs do every day with a smile on their faces and a kind word for those who are so scared, you can’t help but feel the passion,” she continues. “At the BCRFA, we are invested financially, physically, and emotionally. Dr. Partridge, executive director of the CCC, says we will conquer cancer in the next 25 years. I believe him and I’ll keep working to raise the funds to make that happen.”

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