Ordinary heroes live among us

Posted Dec. 29, 2009, at 7:29 p.m.

Tom died the Saturday before Christmas. I don’t know much about Tom. He was about 60 and his death was unexpected. I don’t know his last name, because you don’t usually exchange last names when you do the sort of thing Tom was doing a few hours before he died.

The doctors said Tom overexerted and had a massive heart attack. I don’t know about that, I only know that a few hours before Tom died he was delivering a pickup truck’s worth of toys to children in a homeless shelter. Whatever the doctors say, it appears Tom’s heart worked beautifully right up to the last beat.

Last year I started a tradition for my column, pledging to devote the last Wednesday of the year to unknown or forgotten greatness around us. Folks who aren’t sports stars, superstars or rock stars — people who just do what matters to them and this makes other lives more special — people like Tom.

In February I read in the Bangor Daily News about Newport Police Chief Leonard Macdaid. If you do much driving in these parts, you know one thing about Newport: Don’t speed. Quite frankly, that’s the only thing I’ve ever heard of the Newport Police Department’s reputation.

Then I read about Chief Macdaid. The chief felt that keeping his community safe meant more than law enforcement: It included home visits to the elderly. A chance to check in, to chat — as the paper said — to make sure seniors are OK. “Is the house warm? Does everyone look well? Is there evidence of cooking or adequate groceries? Is the driveway cleared and the step ice-free?”

After I first read the story I called his office thinking it might be neat to devote a whole column to his sort of “justice” — the kind that truly protects the most vulnerable in his community. He was polite and cordial on the phone. But after talking to him a few minutes I realized he wasn’t the type of man you wrote about in a political OpEd of a newspaper. He was too humble, too unassuming, too genuine to have his name dropped anytime but now.

There is one thing the chief said that I would like to take exception to: that the elderly he visits are “by far the best generation this country ever had.” It can’t be. The chief isn’t in that generation, and his actions prove that every generation has the potential for greatness.

The next two women, Cheryl Morin and Leslie Morissette, have an awful lot in common. They both have agonizingly outlived a child and have used that pain and anguish to help other people’s children.

Cheryl Morin’s son died by suicide. The very first time I met her she taught me a most valuable lesson — people don’t commit suicide like they might commit murder. When someone takes their own life it’s a final symptom of the disease of depression that shows many signs along the way. Cheryl has devoted her life to helping others recognize the clues that could indicate someone is at risk.

She and her husband, Vic, and their extended family and friends have begun the J.D. Foundation, named in honor of her son. They want to remind you, “Suicide is never the answer. It is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” Learn more at thejdfoundation.org.

Leslie Morissette’s not-for-profit organization Grahamtastic is likewise named for her son. Leslie knows the struggles of having a critically ill child. She knows the difficulty of keeping a chronically ill — even terminally ill child interested in school and in touch with friends. Grahamtastic provides new and good-condition used laptops to kids with cancer and other life-threatening illness. They’ve provided more than 300 laptops so far and she always needs more. You can help at grahamtastic.org.

On a personal note, this November marked the 20th anniversary of meeting a woman who changed my life. Twenty years of gratitude to you, Michele Slater, for inspiring the rest of us to believe in ourselves.

May these people inspire us to be kind. Remember the song, “We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne.”

Pat LaMarche of Yarmouth is the author of “Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States.” She may be reached at PatLaMarche@hotmail.com.

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