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Norfolk/Wrentham - Local Town Pages

Gary Mirliss Memorial Blood Drive Set for Jan. 6

The blood drive held in memory of Gary Mirliss marks 20 years this month.

Annual Drive Marks 20 Years

By Grace Allen

It began as a way to honor the memory of a Norfolk husband and father and also give back to the hospitals that cared for him. Now, 20 years later, the blood drive started in Gary Mirliss’ name is still going strong. 

“We weren’t even certain it would go two years,” said Greg Mirliss, Gary’s son. “It was just, let’s do this and see where it goes. And we just kept going, because we love it.”

Gary Mirliss passed away from leukemia in 2001 at age 50. In 2004, the family started the blood drive to thank the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, where Gary was treated. A few years later, Children’s Hospital became a recipient of the drive, and this year, Massachusetts General Hospital is participating too.

In the past 20 years, the drive has collected over 2,000 units of blood, which has helped some 5,700 people. This year, Greg Mirliss hopes to collect 200 units more to mark the drive’s 20th anniversary.“If we collect 200 units of blood, that will help 800 people,” said Mirliss.

The drive is always held on the first Saturday of the new year. This year’s drive will be held on January 6 from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. at King Philip Middle School, 18 King St., Norfolk. 

Mirliss points out the blood drive is unlike other drives in a number of ways. A full breakfast or pizza lunch is served to donors, depending on the time of day, as well as an ice cream social in the afternoon. 

New this year, Mirliss plans a Virgin Bloody Mary mix-off, with several area restaurants participating in the contest. Blood donors will be able to vote for their favorite non-alcoholic version in several categories. 

Donors will also receive free long sleeve t-shirts. Music is slated throughout the day.

But what really makes the drive different is that it serves as a reunion and party of sorts. Gary Mirliss’ classmates from Milton High School’s Class of 1969 always come, even those who can no longer donate blood. They stay for several hours catching up with each other, said Greg Mirliss. 

“Other people do that as well,” he said. “We have friends and relatives that come down from Vermont or up from Connecticut every year to participate. There are other people that come every year, and we’ve become friends with many of them, too. They learned about the drive, wanted to come and donate, but had no idea how fun it was. And now they keep coming because it’s such a great experience.”

Maureen Zuzevich, of Mass General Brigham and Dana Farber, is the Recruitment Program Manager for the Kraft Blood Donor Center and has worked with the Mirliss family since the first drive in 2004. The need for blood, especially Type O, is urgent right now, noted Zuzevich, emphasizing the importance of the annual drive.

“The amount of blood this drive brings in is very unusual,” she said. “I run 20 to 25 drives a month, each bringing in about 45 units of blood. This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, drives I do in a year. I am in awe of this family and what they do for the Boston hospitals year after year. They have never wavered in their commitment.”

Even during the height of COVID, the drive continued. In 2021 and 2022, it was moved to Lake Pearl Luciano’s, where organizers had the run of the whole facility so everyone could stay safely spaced apart.

Mirliss says the annual blood drive is a great way to start the new year, and something he knows his dad would be proud of.

“He’d love it,” Mirliss said. “It’s for a good cause but we’re also having fun at the same time. This year, especially, we hope people are willing to come out, roll up their sleeves, and help us meet our goal because there’s always a need for blood. There’s no replacement for it on earth.”

To make an appointment to donate blood at the 20th annual Gary Mirliss Memorial Blood Drive, visit Appointments are recommended but walk-ins are welcome.

For more information, email [email protected].