I have always been drawn to heroes – to people who show great courage and set an example for the rest of us; leaders who remind us that we, too, can be brave. My brother, Scott, was just that kind of person.
My father traveled a lot when were kids, and Scott -- the oldest of four -- helped my mother raise us. It probably wasn’t something he would have chosen to do – we were an unruly bunch and he was just a kid himself -- but he stepped up to the job regardless. For example, he was constantly defending our younger brother, David, on the school bus when we first moved to Virginia because the big kids were calling him a “yellow-bellied Yankee.” David was just a seven year-old string-bean at the time, but he was fearless and pretty sure the teenagers were swearing at him. Every time they taunted him, he would puff up his skinny little torso and hurl himself across the bus seat onto someone twice his size. Though not prone to fist-fighting, Scott would have to step in and save the day which, in turn, sometimes involved throwing a few punches of his own.
Even our dog, Charlie, depended on Scott. Late one evening not long after we moved to Barboursville, our father was out of the country on an assignment, and he was trying to reach us by phone, but he couldn’t get through. Our new home was out in the middle of the woods, and Mom was there alone with us. This made him nervous, so he called the sheriff and asked him if he would check on his family. We were all sound asleep – unaware that the phone wasn’t working – when my mother was awakened by a knock at the front door. As she nervously headed down the stairs to investigate, our dog Charlie ran in the other direction. “Great watchdog,” she thought to herself. But Charlie wasn’t hiding. He was off to get Scott. He ran to his room, up to his bed and nudged at him and nudged at him until – groggy-eyed and confused – our 10 year-old big brother followed him down the stairs. Even Charlie knew that Scott was our hero.
People can be brave in many ways. I met a woman this past weekend who was able to turn one of the most painful experiences – the loss of her 14 year-old daughter Eloise – into something helpful to others. While many of us would have retreated into ourselves in the face of such sadness, Annie Gould was driven to make a difference. In 2011, she initiated the first annual Charlottesville CureSearch Walk, helping to raise $72,000 for children’s cancer research. As impressive and important as that figure is, the walk was about so much more than fundraising. In finding the strength to publicly honor and remember Eloise, Annie and her family gave hope, inspiration and comfort to so many others dealing with children’s cancer. That, in my opinion, was nothing short of heroic.
Last weekend, Annie -- along with her family and friends -- led the 2nd annual Charlottesville CureSearch Walk at The Park at UVA, and this time our CVIO crew was there to join them. Annie welcomed the crowd of families and thanked them for their efforts, and then children of all ages filled the stage to receive medals of honor and dance the Macarena. We listened as UVA nurses and doctors were acknowledged for their dedication and compassion and watched as the sky filled with beautiful white balloons released in memory of loved ones lost. Of course, there was sadness, but there was also a great feeling of hope. After all, little Preston -- who was not quite two and had just learned to walk -- was in full remission. Last year -- still undergoing treatment for Neuroblastoma and barely able to sit up -- he had attended the event in a stroller. This past weekend, with a handful of crackers and a big grin, he joined his parents, siblings and other families for three laps around the field.
This Saturday is Scott’s birthday. Sadly, he will not be celebrating the day with us. He lost a nine month battle with melanoma in May of 2005, shortly after turning forty-five. In honor of my big brother and of brave leaders everywhere -- large and small -- perhaps we could take a few moments to remember and thank the heroes in our lives. Or -- better yet – maybe we could strive to be more like them.