Coastal Voices: Walking for each other

By Jon Alexander July 26, 2011 04:29 pm

Editor’s note: Here are excerpts from a speech delivered by Del Norte County District Attorney Jon Alexander before the beginning of the Luminaria procession Saturday night at the Relay for Life event.

There’s a lot of people who put this weekend together, but I want to single out one of them.

Maybe it’s because I work with her on a daily basis trying to keep this county safe from the bad guys —-and I thought how if I had a family to raise, the job I do, how there’s no way I could put the time into Relay for Life that this lady does.

But then again, that’s in comparison to people who take time to eat, sleep and breathe. You could call her Superwoman, her family calls her Mom, I call her Detective, but I think most of you simply know her as (event coordinator) Melanie (Barry) and she deserves one helluva round of applause.

We’re here to walk for life.  And if you know anything about my story, I have to ask you, who appreciates life more than someone who’s been at the bottom? And who appreciates life more than someone like Melanie Barry and I, who take an oath to fight crime and those that damage and take lives?

And the answer is simple — it’s you and everyone else with a loved one who has or has had cancer.

As hard as Melanie and I fight for the lives of others, we have nothing on you who are walking in support of or in memory of a loved one with cancer.  You know how precious life is and how much it’s worth fighting for.

I’ll start walking this morning at 2 a.m. and when I step onto this track, I’ll have three people with me.  On this shirt, you see a couple of guys and if you’re from Jersey like me, you know one of them is Bruce Springsteen. The other was his keyboard player of 40 years, Danny Federici.

I saw Danny perform his magic in person over 80 times, up until April 17, 2008, when he passed after a three-year battle with melanoma.

And there’s the second person who’ll be walking with me this morning. And that’s my best friend and Mom, Arlene Alexander.  Born March 14, 1919, a soft-spoken farm girl from Boone, Iowa, she was one of Tom Brokaw’s appropriately named “Greatest Generation” that got us through World War II and the Great Depression, who rolled up their sleeves and gutted out the tough times instead of whining about them.

My senior year in high school, they told us Mom was sick and had to go to the hospital. She had breast cancer and in 1968 had radical mastectomies. She and my father never talked about it. And I never fully understood what she must have gone through then, or when I came home from college in Kentucky to find they’d moved into separate beds.

We grew up in a factory town where a lot of women got cancer and it seemed like every one of them came to lean on my Mom for strength. Her greatest joy in this world was in doing something kind for someone else who hit some hard times with no expectation of compensation or acknowledgment. She will always be my biggest hero. The stone on a hillside in Iowa has a date of March 23, 2006, but she’ll be with me tonite.

And the last person who will be out on this track with me tonight is a lady who, like my Mom, had a radical mastectomy in 1974. The first day after her surgery, she asked her husband to make a national public announcement of her experience because she felt for the thousands of women who had undergone the silent scourge of breast cancer and wanted to let them know they were not alone.

In 1975, my Mom sent her a simple letter thanking her for her courage and compassion. One month later, Mom got a handwritten letter from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue with a gold embossed presidential seal on it, thanking her for her kind words and inviting her to stop in and say hello if she was ever in Washington, D.C.  It was signed simply, “Betty.”

So that’s the company I’ll have this morning. And while there might be someone out there who would tell me that Danny and Mom and Mrs. Ford have died, I — we — know that’s not true.

’Cause like Bruce said at Danny’s funeral, “Danny’s not dead. As long as the band’s alive, Danny’s alive.” And as long as this band of brothers and sisters that’s here tonite is alive, so are the rest of our loved ones we walk with this weekend.

Like Bruce wrote:

“Blood Brothers and Sisters on a stormy night,

With a vow to defend,

No retreat, no surrender.”

For tonight we celebrate.  Tonight we remember. And tomorrow, we go out and beat this thing.