Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Congresswoman Louise Slaughter Will Truly Be Missed

It took a few times of hearing about Congresswoman Louise Slaughter’s death for it to truly sink in.  She was the type of person who seemed larger than life.  She and I had known each other for 45 years, and it doesn’t seem possible that she could be gone. 

She first came into my life when she decided to run for a Democratic seat on the Monroe County Legislature while I was the Deputy Campaign Manager for the Monroe County Republican Committee.  After losing two close races, she finally won in her third try.  She was unstoppable even then.  After being on the County Legislature, she worked for Mario Cuomo when he was the Secretary of State.  She then moved on to be in the State Assembly, and then in 1986, she won her first term in Congress.  When she died, she was in her 16th term in Congress.  Over the years, her stature had risen until she was one of the most powerful members of Congress. 

Our paths crossed again in the early 90s when I decided to start an international program at Camp Good Days, Doing a World of Good, so that children from around the world affected by cancer could come together with children from Western New York to come to our recreational facility on Keuka Lake.  In the first year of us providing the program, some of the countries who wanted to participate were having trouble getting exit visas.  I flew with the people who were in charge of the program to Washington DC to meet with various friends to see who we could get help from, and after talking to a few people, we ended up meeting with Louise after lunch at her office.  She came out to meet us, and made us feel instantly welcome.  She gave us so much of her time that we almost missed our flight back to Rochester.  She and her office helped us so much when we first started the Doing a World of Good program, and since that program has started, we have had children attend from 35 different countries.

That election season, for the first time in 25 years, I didn’t have a dog in the fight, and so I was home watching the results on television with my wife, Wendy.  When Bob King defeated Tom Frey, Steve Minarik, the Republican County Chairman said during his speech, now that we have gotten rid of Tom Frey, next we’re coming after you, Congresswoman Louise Slaughter.  My wife, Wendy, looked at me and said, Gary, you can’t let that happen.  So a few days after the election, Louise and I met for coffee at the Coal Tower in Pittsford, where I told her that of all the people we met with on our trip to Washington DC, she could gave just given us lip service, but instead, she helped more than anyone else to make our program successful.  And so, I said that if she needed any help with her election in the following year, I would be happy to help.  Louise asked, and I did.  We did a radio spot and a mailing for her, and she was able to win her re-election.

From that point on, Louise and my relationship took on a special meaning, and Louise and Bob became friends of Wendy and mine, and we would all go out to dinner together. I received a phone call one summer, while I was down at camp, from Louise in Washington, asking me to call her back because she needed a favor.  She said that she was having a fundraiser at the Convention Center, but there was a vote scheduled for President Clinton’s Crime Bill, and she needed to stay in Washington DC.  She asked me if I would represent her and introduce Vice President Al Gore at her fundraiser where he was a special guest.  I left camp, went home, and changed, and went to the fundraiser where I sat with the Vice President, welcomed the guests, and explained why Louise couldn’t make it.  I was very honored that she had asked me, and this shows just how close our relationship was.  Louise was a great supporter of Camp Good Days.  She helped with the Kazoo Fest where she would sell kazoos at the Eastview Mall, and she also helped to arrange a visit for the campers to meet Vice President Al Gore in Washington DC, and arranged not only a special tour of the White House, but also of other sites in Washington DC. She spent some time down at our recreational facility on Keuka Lake to see the volunteers and campers when we were in the summer season, and she would often come over to the office in Mendon to meet our staff.  Then, when I had the idea a few years ago for Cancer Mission 2020, the end of cancer by the end of the decade, Louise was one of the first people I went to, and she was very, very supportive.

While Louise and I didn’t often agree on many issues over the years, me being a Republican and Louise being a Democrat, we had such a great respect for each other.  When people would ask me why I always supported her even though we didn’t see eye-to-eye on many issues, I would say that she is a woman who has been in office for many years at the local, state and federal levels without even a hint of scandal, which is very rare to see these days.  She truly cared about her community, and was an upstanding person.   I think that this community has lost one of its most influential people, and it will be very hard to fill the void her passing has created. 

When her husband, Bob, died I thought that she would consider ending her career, especially since he was her constant companion after he retired from Eastman Kodak; they were truly a team.  She ended up deciding that she still had something to offer, and remained in public office. 

I will miss Louise dearly and our periodical coffees that we would have at the Starbucks on the corner of Clover and Monroe, and I know that I can speak on behalf of the campers and families of Camp Good Days, that we will all miss her commitment and willingness to make a difference.  She was truly a remarkable woman, a loyal friend, and a political force to be reckoned with and respected.     

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Losing Another Friend to Cancer in our Community

Once again this past weekend, Camp Good Days and the Rochester community lost a very special friend much too early.  I first met Supreme Court Justice, Elma Bellini, many years ago following the death of her father to cancer while she worked in the Public Defender’s office of Monroe County.  She wanted to get involved with Camp Good Days to help the children and families we serve.  She served as a volunteer at our summer camping programs when we held the camps on Keuka Lake, and she also participated in a number of year-round activities. 

Elma eventually ran for County Court, and she was a welcome addition to the judiciary.  She truly cared about people, and while serving as a County Court Judge, she was assigned to handle the domestic violence cases.  After Elma became a judge and was able to adopt her two children, she didn’t have the time to volunteer at camp anymore.  Our paths would cross intermittently, but whenever we saw each other, it was like we had seen each other the day before. 

One day during one of our visits, she asked if our summer calendar was filled.  She told me how she wanted the children who were innocent victims of domestic violence to be able to experience the magic of camp, and she wondered if I would be willing to host a program down at our facility for them.  I told her that we would find a way to make this happen for them; we just needed volunteers and campers to make the program run smoothly.  The program was a success, and for those of us who were involved, it was the highlight of the summer.  That program is very special to me, and the Camp Good Days staff, and so I have decided to rename the program to “Elma’s Camp” in memory of her and her wonderful work.

Following that summer, Elma became a Supreme Court Justice, and we lost touch.  Elma accomplished many things in her life, but like so many others, her life was cut short by the insidious disease we call cancer.

Please bear with me as I get on my soapbox.  You can’t pick up the newspaper or watch television without hearing our leaders talk about all topics under the sun except for what we are going to do to once and for all, end the disease that touches all of us directly or indirectly.  This disease takes 11,000 Americans every week; many before their time.  That is like one of the Twin Towers falling every day, 365 days a year.  It takes many parents away from their children, and spouses away from each other.  It is the leading cause of death in the United States for people 85 years old and younger, and it is the leading cause of death in the world.  In 2018, I find it very sad that many parents have to go through the terrifying ordeal of burying their child before them, as I had to do, almost 40 years ago.

The only way that we are going to find the answers to this horrible disease is if we have a coordinated effort.  It has to come from our leadership in Washington, and this is only going to happen when we, as citizens, truly live up to our responsibility of letting our elected officials know that we need to stop messing around with this disease.  I have never been more confident than I am now that we possess that ability.  If our government would stop spending and wasting money on inconsequential things that have little importance, and focus that money on finding the answers to cancer, we could find a way to end this disease once and for all.  There are many intelligent people who have dedicated their lives to finding the answers to cancer, but they need more funding, greater patient participation in clinical trials, because that is where the answers are going to come from, and we need the government to stand behind them.

We have lost way too many wonderful people like Elma way before their time from this horrible disease.  Everyone needs to stand up and be counted, so that we can see if we can truly make America great again by finding the answers to cancer.