In Homer’s epic poem “Odyssey,” Penelope, the faithful wife of Odysseus, the king of Ithaca, kept her suitors at bay during her husband’s 10-year absence after the Trojan War by promising to choose a suitor after she finishes weaving a burial shroud. Every night, however, she undid part of the shroud, to prolong the work.
Elisabeth, the wife of Mitchell Reiss, the former vice provost for international affairs at the College of William & Mary, and now president of Washington College, had no need for such subterfuge. She wanted to finish stringing her 40,000 pink beads as soon as possible.
She wanted to break the world record in stringing the most beads into a continuous strand, with each bead representing one of the 40,000 American lives lost each year to breast cancer.
I asked Elisabeth what was the reaction of her family when she unveiled her project. “Pride and amazement,” she said. “They wanted to help, but according to the rules of the Guinness Book of World Records, that was not allowed.”
A young Englishwoman had held the world record, but Elisabeth had a purpose in taking on the project: to raise funds for breast cancer research and education.
She was highly motivated to support the cause because her mother-in-law and grandmother-in-law were among those women who were battling breast cancer.
Her goal was to string single-handedly, 40,000 beads and raise funds for the Susan G. Komen Foundation by selling sponsorship for each bead.
The work took more than 400 hours, and the Reiss’ living room, dining room and parlor in Williamsburg turned into her workshop.
“When I was getting through about 20,000 beads on the string, unfortunately the string got tangled. The problem was that I could not cut the string because it had to be continuous one, to break the record. It took me countless hours untangling the string. I learned I had more patience that I realized,” Elisabeth said.
In the fall of 2009, she finished the project, a 1,048-foot-long string of pink beats. It stretched the length of three football fields. It was measured and notarized to ensure it met all the standards.
Almost a year later, Elisabeth’s project was officially entered into the Guinness Book of World Records. “When, the certificate finally arrived, it came as a wonderful surprise. I thought it would make fundraising for breast cancer a little easier as people would be part owners of a Guinness World Record,” she said.
To utilize effectively what is officially the “world’s longest strand of beads,” she would like to display it at such events as Race for The Cure and Relay for Life.
She remembered when members of the Phi Mu sorority at William & Mary saw the strand the first time laid out in continuous pattern on the floor in a hall on the campus. “It really had an impact when people realized that each of those beads represented a life.”
More: On the website, www.buyabead.org, anyone who donates at least $1 can dedicate a bead to a friend or family member affected by the disease.
Frank Shatz lives in Williamsburg, Va. and Lake Placid. His column was reprinted with permission from The Virginia Gazette.