State House pays tribute to Cellucci

Chancellor Collins reflects on governor's selflessness

By Sandra Gray

UMass Medical School Communications

June 13, 2013
  state-house-collins-remarks-cellucci 
  Chancellor Michael Collins delivers remarks at the State House memorial service for former Gov. Paul Cellucci on June 13.

UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael F. Collins was among those who delivered remarks at a memorial service for former Massachusetts Governor Argeo Paul Cellucci, who died Saturday from complications of ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. The memorial service was held Thursday, June 13, in the House of Representatives chamber. Afterward, Gov. Cellucci’s body laid in repose in the Hall of Flags, as hundreds of well-wishers came to pay their respects.

 

Dr. Collins, who with the governor’s physician and leading ALS researcher Robert Brown Jr., DPhil, MD, helped establish the UMass ALS Champion Fund, spoke of Cellucci’s deep commitment to advancing research that might save others from the incurable disease that took his life. “His hands had become weakened, but the strength of his cause and resolve, were overpowering,” Collins recalled.

Read the Chancellor’s full remarks below:

Mrs. Cellucci, Jan; Kate, Anne, members of the Cellucci family; distinguished officials; ladies and gentlemen:

Paul Cellucci was a good man!

A son of Hudson, where his hands could roll the bocce ball with the best, he came to the hallowed halls of this State House to represent those whom he knew best. Into his hands came the responsibility to lead at the highest levels of state government. President Bush handed him the responsibility to represent the United States in Canada. When Paul Cellucci was at the helm, there were steady hands guiding the ship of state.

Just over two years ago, in a meeting I shall never forget, Governor Cellucci came to my office, accompanied by his most stalwart supporter, Jan, to tell me that soon he was to make the announcement that he had been diagnosed with ALS. As I went to grasp his hand, it was clear that it had been weakened by his disease. But there was not one sign of weakness in the strength of his character or his commitment to public service.

“Chancellor,” he said, “one of the greatest things State government ever did was to create the University of Massachusetts Medical School.” He went on, “I am fortunate that my physician, Robert Brown, is on the faculty at UMass. I am in good hands. The most important thing I can do is to help our doctor and one of the world’s foremost ALS researchers help to find a cure for this disease.”

There was a momentary silence as the three of us processed this challenging news.

Gathering himself, he continued. “Michael, I want to help the medical school of which I am so proud. I want to work with you to raise funds to support the research in Dr. Brown’s lab. We need to raise millions of dollars. I know that we can do it!”

His was a selfless call to service. We were in good hands!

He began to plan and organize. We need a committee. We will call this person and that person. We can make the announcement at Fenway. We can create a website and fill billboards throughout the state. Though he never said these words, it was clear to me that Paul Cellucci knew that he was about to embark on his final campaign.

I began to tread in unsettled waters. “Governor, you have been given a challenging diagnosis. It will get more difficult as the days and weeks progress. You will need to preserve your energy and save time for your family.”

He was having none of it. Now, in true campaign mode he asked, “Doctor, are you with me or not?” Thus, together, we embarked on the establishment of the UMass ALS Champion Fund. We shook hands as he left but it was the hug that said it all. For the Governor, this was personal not political.

A few months later we headed to Fenway Park where the Governor would announce the establishment of the Fund. He was well briefed and ready to go.

His values construct was firm: medical research brings hopes. It helps patients to keep hope alive. His efforts were focused on helping others have hope.

The Governor was committed to doing all he could to support the research enterprise at UMass. He was aware that government funding of medical research was not keeping pace with inflation. He was worried that cures were being delayed because diminished research funding could not keep stride with the intellect and innovation of those who conduct it.

The announcement could not have gone better. The folks at Fenway were most gracious. Many friends came to celebrate with Paul. We met the players, ate the popcorn and peanuts and then headed to the mound.

The Governor had called me earlier in the day. “Michael, I will need you to throw out the first pitch. I am not sure that I can do it.” What should have been a thrill became a shrill reminder of the insidious nature of this disease.

In the days and weeks that followed, Paul Cellucci was a man on a mission. Like the days of old, he called and asked people for their support. He assembled a team and was determined to succeed. He reunited with Bill Weld and together, they were champions for his cause, our cause, humanity’s cause. His hands had become weakened, but the strength of his cause and resolve, were overpowering.

There isn’t a one of us who wants to have to face the prospects of a very difficult and challenging disease. There isn’t a one of us who wants to believe that our nation cannot invest in research so that we can actually find a cure for diseases like ALS. There isn’t a one of us who would ever want to walk into their doctor’s office and be told that they have ALS. And frankly, there isn’t a one of us who knows who will be next.

To change the course of history of disease; that and nothing less is what inspires our students, caregivers and researchers each and every day. It is a noble and important mission and it is one that was shared by a true champion of our medical school, Paul Cellucci.

We are inspired by the Governor’s commitment to tomorrow’s patients and his willingness to invest his time and energy, which became more precious each and every day.

Earlier, I recounted my first conversation with the Governor about the need to raise money to support medical research and to find a cure for ALS. In my final conversation with the Governor a few weeks ago, for the first time in his illness, he expressed concern. Mind you, the concern was not personal or related to his advancing disease. Rather, he wanted to be assured that his efforts to raise funds in support of ALS research would not cease with his passing.

As a physician, it is a great privilege to care for and about a patient. In the life of Paul Cellucci, we see that it was a great privilege for him to lead those he governed. In the final chapter of his life, he lived with indomitable spirit determined to have a hand in the cause of ALS research.

Paul Cellucci was a good man! His life was infused with purpose, defined by actions and will be remembered for results.

His final acts were offered in selfless public service. From his hands to ours we shall carry forth in the important cause of medical research in response to his call to bring hope as we care for and about others in their time of greatest need.