I often wondered if my brother’s accomplishments would ever be recognized publicly. People die everyday but for those who leave the earth a whole lot better than the way we found it, we should pause and take notice of their efforts. I believe it inspires others to act.
The email arrived several weeks ago, inviting me to accept an Environmental Award (In Memoriam) for my brother, Frank, who worked tirelessly to protect the Stewart Buffer lands surrounding Stewart International Airport. He went up against some of the heavy hitters in New York State at that time – Governor Pataki and several other high ranking officials. He was like David against Goliath and his tape recorder was his slingshot.
Frank was a member of the Orange County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, the Stewart Park and Reserve Coalition (SPARC) and the Black Rock Fish and Game Club. When SPARC filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the required environment impact reviews were not properly completed – someone had to go to all of the public meetings and keep the pressure on those big guns calling the shots. He attended nearly every single meeting and often recorded the politician’s speeches, catching them when they reneged on their promises.
On Friday night, I accepted the Environmental Award on behalf of my brother’s accomplishments. I took a deep breath before I went to the podium and glanced around the room at the approximately 100 people seated before me. It was a difficult task.
“Many of you knew my brother, Frank. Perhaps, some of you never had the opportunity to meet him. He was so many things to so many people but, first and foremost, he loved the land and fought tooth and nail to preserve it for those of us today to enjoy it for hiking, biking, hunting, trail riding, snowmobiling or just watching the wildlife that now call it home.
His favorite saying was, ‘Don’t let them take away our freedoms,’ and he did everything in his power to prevent that from ever happening. He teamed up with Ben Kissam; SPARC founder in the 1980’s to preserve the Stewart Buffer lands.
Frank held people accountable for their actions and their words. When he went up against some of the politicians in Albany who recanted their statements, Frank turned to the audio tape. It’s pretty hard to argue with yourself and your own voice.
Frank left us in 2000, but he left us with a legacy. Every time I pass by the land that he loved and that others are now able to enjoy, I smile. Somewhere up there, he’s smiling too.”
Those were not my exact words but its close enough – for a writer, I was not as prepared as I should have been. I should have written something before hand but I thought I’d have too much trouble reading it, so I just spoke from my heart. It appeared to be acceptable, but in hindsight, I offer the following tips:
If you are asked to pay tribute to a beloved friend or family member, jot down some notes beforehand.
Bring a glass of water with you to the podium, my throat felt as though I’d swallowed a ton of salt.
Pause if you feel like you are getting emotional – the audience will understand and no one will walk out on you if you require a moment to regroup.
It is okay to smile, to laugh, to tell a funny story or even shed a tear – your tribute should be a reflection of the person and your emotions are a reflection of the love that you still feel for them.
B-r-e-a-t-h-e. I believe I forgot to breathe at some point.
In the end, whatever you say or don’t say really doesn’t matter. They’ll understand how hard this was for you to do.