SCRANTON -- Barb Connolly of Scranton wrote a letter to Robin Williams hoping for an autograph to cheer up a friend who was battling cancer. Not only did Williams respond, but he inspired Connolly to continue cheering up people who are suffering.
In the movie "Patch Adams," Robin Williams played a medical resident who believes laughter is the best medicine. The character uses a red clown nose as a cure-all.
Barb Connolly likens herself to a Patch Adams, but instead of clown noses, she uses signed celebrity photos.
"After being diagnosed with breast cancer I decided that if I lived I would help bring joy and hope to others," Connolly said.
Barb's first "patient" was Dana Reed, a former English teacher at Western Wayne High School in Wayne County. Before he died of cancer two years ago, he likened himself to another one of Robin Williams movie characters: another English teacher, John Keating, in "Dead Poet's Society."
Reed taught like Keating did, often quoting the movie and sometimes teaching from atop his desk.
When he got sick, Reed's students knew what would make him feel better and they called Barb.
"So I wrote Robin Williams a nice letter and he did respond. He sent an autographed picture and a nice note to go with it," Connolly added.
The signed picture meant a lot to the English teacher so inspired by Williams' acting, which in turn inspired Barb to do the same thing for about a dozen other people suffering from illnesses.
Perhaps Robin Williams' greatest lesson is that laughter really is the best medicine.
"It makes them forget about their worries even if it's for a minute or two but they can always look back and smile at it," Connolly said.
Mr. Dana Reed passed away shortly after hearing from Robin Williams.
Since then Barb Connolly has reached out to other actors and singers to get autographs or gifts. She calls them "carpe diem packages" after Williams' "seize the day" quote in "Dead Poets Society."