Ron George spoke Wednesday night at the Jepson Alumni Center about his daughter's battle with anorexia and bulimia, which led to her death. George's speech was part of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
George has told this story many times during the last eight and a half years since his daughter Leslie died during her freshman year at James Madison University at the age of 19. He said every time he gave his speech, he hoped Leslie's story and his family's loss would motivate others to fight for a happier, healthier end to their battle against the disease, which he calls "the dragon."
"I want no other parent to go through what we went through," George said. "All we can do is fight the dragon. Please help us."
Earlier in the speech, George explained why he referred to eating disorders as "the dragon." It is the name a family friend gave the disorders during Leslie's eulogy to personify what a big and dangerous threat they pose. George added to that definition that the dragon is a product of today's society that worships and congratulates being thin.
As George tells the story of Leslie's days in the hospital, the sorrow and difficulty of reliving each hour are visible in his expression. Despite the pain, George said he continued to travel to colleges and rallies because he believed that telling his story was the only thing he could do to make sure his daughter had not died in vain. He tells his story so he could get the message out about what is happening to women across the country.
"Who is the dragon?" George said. "It is us - it is all of us. It is our society that promotes thinness. It is the long-time editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine who has done more to promote eating disorders than any other. It is the fashion industry."
George and his wife have traveled up and down the East coast to dozens of college campuses sharing their tragedy. George even told his story in front of a U.S. Congressional Briefing as one of three speakers with the Eating Disorders Coalition, a Washington D.C.-based advocacy group.
Ironically, it was not this long list of activist work that brought George to Richmond. It was his very first speech. Just months after his daughter died, he spoke at James Madison to Leslie's former classmates. In that crowd was Carolyn Powell, who was then a freshman at James Madison and is now Richmond's registered dietician. It was Powell who asked George to speak here because, even after eight years, she still remembered his speech.
"He made such an impression on me," Powell said. "Because it is such a personal story for him and so many people have been affected by eating disorders that everyone can relate. I was studying nutrition at the time and it really confirmed that choice for me."
Powell said she had wanted to bring George to campus this week, during the national awareness week, to focus the awareness efforts on one big event. This approach is different from years past, when the awareness week had been filled with more, smaller events. Powell has coordinated her efforts this week with the student group Images, which will plan events and possibly invite a speaker during its "Love Your Body" week in March.
To promote the event and increase awareness, Powell publicized through student networks. She advertised the event on SpiderBytes, flyers and on the television screens in Heilman Dining Center. Then, Powell contacted the director of Resident Assistants and the Pan-Hellenic Council to appeal to more targeted groups of people. Last night, mostly women, most of whom were Greek-affiliated, filled the room.
Contact reporter Amelie LeBreton at email@example.com