he 200- plus women comprising The Ocala Royal Dames for Cancer Research are on a mission to support research and education that will make a difference in the war on cancer. To date, this charitable organization has donated over $3 million to institutions and programs focused on cancer, raising funds through theme parties, fundraisers and an annual ball.
The Ocala Royal Dames was founded in 1986 by Theresa Castro and is made up entirely of volunteers. Its members are from a variety of backgrounds — bankers, teachers, police officers, lawyers, businesswomen, medical professionals, small business owners, consultants, members of the military, homemakers, retirees and more. What unites them is the desire to make a difference in their community and the state of Florida.
“We’ve got such a diversification of women that all care and have come together for one cause,” said Corinne DeVault, first vice president of the Ocala Royal Dames. “There’s really nothing quite like the Royal Dames, and I have always been very proud to be a member.”
Held in the spring, the Tiara Ball is the organization’s signature annual event. A part of the proceeds raised from the event goes to UF Health for research in pediatric hematologyoncology, pediatric neurooncology, breast cancer, prostate cancer, acute lymphoblastic leukemia, and pediatric and adult brain tumors. Last year, at the 30th annual Tiara Ball, the theme was Historic Royal Palaces — with rooms decorated as Buckingham Palace, Kensington Palace, Balmoral Castle and Windsor Castle — and more than $70,000 was raised.
“It’s just a really elegant, lovely evening,” said DeVault. “There are not a lot of formal affairs in Ocala, and this is one that people look forward to.”
In total, the Ocala Royal Dames have donated over $1.5 million to the UF Health Cancer Center, including two endowments, one that supports pediatric oncology research and another that supports “grand rounds” lecturers in adult and pediatric oncology. The organization gives out grants every two years to UFHCC members, who are selected based on research proposals.
Recent grant recipients are Hendrik Luesch, Ph.D., Elias Sayour, M.D., Ph.D., and Dr. Maryam Rahman, M.D. The Royal Dames have also “knighted” cancer physicians a UF Health, including Kevin Brown, Ph.D., Walter O’Dell, Ph.D., Paul Okunieff, M.D., and William Slayton, M.D.
To learn more, please visit ocalaroyaldames.org.