‘Movember’ effort is a personal issue at Cox

November was a hairy month.

New mustaches sprang up like weeds on faces throughout the country, as part of a nationwide “Movember” fundraising effort aimed at fighting prostate cancer and improving men’s health.

Though Cox Enterprises, which is the parent company of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, had never entered the Movember movement on a corporate scale, the company vaulted to the front of the pack among fundraisers.

Cox raised more than $1.7 million during the month of November, it was announced this week, more than any other network. In fact, Cox raised more than any company, any city and most countries.

The Movember charity began in Australia, where a group of men grew their mustaches (a mustache is a “mo” Down Under) during the month of November to raise awareness of prostate and testicular cancer and mental illness, and generate funds for research. This year, the group collected $17 million in the U.S., $75 million worldwide, and the donations continue to arrive.

(That’s only a fraction of the money raised by the Susan G. Komen foundation to fight breast cancer, but then again, Movember is a younger organization, founded in 2004.)

Among the top five Movember fundraising teams was another Atlanta company, Holder Construction, which has been constructing office buildings for Cox on its Perimeter campus.

Mark Hedstrom, U.S. director of Movember, said Cox’s contribution is the largest single donation the U.S. group has ever received. He added that an important benefit from the Cox campaign was the discussion that it promoted.

“Look at the awareness, the conversations, that’s what we’re trying to create,” Hedstrom said. “Our hope is we continue the conversation throughout the year.”

The Cox effort involved more than 1,600 team members throughout the company, and it sprang from a concern that hit very close to home at the privately held corporation.

Last June, during a routine physical exam, Jim Kennedy, chairman of Cox Enterprises and grandson of founder James M. Cox, discovered that he had an aggressive form of prostate cancer. The fast-growing tumor had been undetectable the previous year.

Emory doctors scheduled a biopsy, then robotic surgery in July. The surgery involved removing the prostate and several adjacent lymph nodes.

“This was just so out of the blue,” said Kennedy, 67. Jamie Kennedy, Jim Kennedy’s son and a member of the Cox board of directors, searched for a way to boost his father’s mood. He knew that his father appreciated all the calls, letters and emails that came in after the diagnosis.

“I kind of had in the back of my mind a way to pour some gasoline on that, and make those emails and those conversations more frequent,” said Jamie Kennedy, 32. He suggested his father tell his employees about his illness, and use the opportunity to raise awareness of prostate cancer.

If we can make something positive out of this, he told his father, we should do it.

“Being a private person, I wasn’t inclined to do that,” Jim Kennedy said in a video posted on the Movember website. “But then as I reflected … I thought if I could prevent one person from having to go through what I have gone through, through awareness or through medical treatment, it would be worth it.”

With his father’s consent, Jamie Kennedy sent a remarkable email to the 55,000 employees of the corporation. He described the impact of the disease on the Kennedys, the fearfulness, the tears. It was a candid revelation from a family that usually avoided the spotlight.

In that same email, Jamie Kennedy announced the Movember at Cox campaign, and the $250,000 goal, which the Cox Foundation planned to match.

Eventually the foundation would be on the hook for a great deal more, matching $885,000 raised by employees, vendors, partners and friends. The chairman pretended to grumble about that, said his son, but he was clearly proud as he checked the leader board and saw Cox outstrip every other company. “They blew by all the expectations,” said Jim Kennedy.

Many Cox employees attempted new mustaches during November, including the Kennedy men. Jamie Kennedy said the Kennedy efforts were not impressive. “If you combined his mustache and mine, you could have gotten one good mustache.”

Jim Kennedy said his prognosis is good. After he heals from the surgery, he will begin radiation treatments. The hormone treatments have some peculiar side effects, he said, but added, “I feel great, other than the hot flashes.”

Support from his company and friends helps feed that good feeling, he said. Of the outpouring of letters and emails, his wife, Sarah, said, “We will never forget it.”

Said Kennedy, “The cool thing is, getting back to what my son did, and what Cox Enterprises did, we raised awareness. After a horrible diagnosis, it’s been a silver lining for me.”