If a child cannot learn the way I teach, then I must teach the way he learns.
--Anna Gillingham, educator and psychologist

Monday, April 22, 2013

Transcript and images from The Sewickley Herald Dinner's 2012 Man of the Year speech

Nanos Gigantum Humeris Insidentes

I’m so honored to be here tonight. Thank you to Debra, Bobby, Joanne, Kristina, Carolyn, and the rest of The Sewickley Herald staff for putting together such a lovely evening. Congratulations to my comrades in arms, Maria and Gary. Before I start my speech, though, I want to recognize that it has been a tough week for our country, especially those directly impacted by the tragedies in Boston and West, Texas. The scenes on the nightly news these past few evenings make me cherish my community, neighbors, family, and friends even more than usual. So, tonight—in this room filled with some of the very best helpers I know— would you all be kind enough to join in me a moment of silence to remember our friends in Massachusetts and Texas?

Before arriving at Laughlin Children’s Center in 2006, I was on the faculty of the School of Education at Pitt. During my 12 years there, I started work on a PhD in Art History, and had the opportunity to spend part of one summer studying in the cathedral town of Chartres, just outside Paris. It’s a quintessentially French village. There’s a meandering river with swans and weeping willows. Half-timbered houses from the 14th century. Cobblestone streets laid out in a crazy medieval maze. It’s a ridiculously, breathtakingly beautiful sort of place.

And I was lucking enough to be there to study the cathedral, which dates to the end of the 1100s. It is an art historian’s dream, since very little of the original structure has been modified over the centuries, including its amazing collection of stained glass. One window in particular has been on my mind lately.

It’s located in the south transept, and contains images of four Old Testament prophets as giant figures, with the four New Testament evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) depicted as ordinary-size people sitting on their shoulders. The window’s iconography—its symbolism—comes from the writings of Bernard of Chartres, a 12th century headmaster of the cathedral’s school. He wrote:

We are like dwarves perched on the shoulders of giants, and thus we are able to see more and farther than they. But this is not by virtue of any acuteness of our sight or stature of our body, but because we are carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of their giant size.
The image is a powerful one for me, and it has popped into my head over and over in the weeks since Bobby Cherry called me to say I’d been chosen by The Sewickley Herald Staff as the Man of the Year. I feel like one of those four evangelists—a pretty short, pretty ordinary guy—perched on the shoulders of a giant. Or, more precisely, lots of giants.

Most of you know the story of Laughlin Children’s Center. But for those who don’t, here’s the Reader’s Digest version: In 1897, Mary Laughlin convinced her husband Alexander, heir to a steel-manufacturing fortune, to build a 25-bedroom house off Camp Meeting Road in Sewickley Heights. She already had a lovely house in the Village, on what’s now Sewickley Academy’s campus, so the new house wasn’t intended for Mary or her family. Instead, she wanted Alexander to build the mansion on Camp Meeting so that they could house new-born infants and their mothers from Pittsburgh. At that time, the industrial revolution was in full swing, and pollution was a serious health risk to everyone who lived within the city limits. Mary’s dream was to bring thirty to forty mothers and their children to the fresh air of Sewickley, so that they could recuperate and get a healthy start on life.

By 1901, Alexander had built the house, which became known as the Sewickley Fresh Air Home. Mary served as the chairman of its board for almost 50 years. By then, society had caught up with her idea of early intervention in the health of children, and had developed better places for those children to be. So, shortly before Mary’s death, the home stopped taking in new clients. When she died, in the early 1950s, Mary’s dream died with her, but not before she left a sizeable bequest to the Fresh Air Home. Because the Home had shuttered operations, its remaining board members were faced with the problem of finding another charitable organization with similar goals, to whom they could give the money.

Ginny Nix was a young Sewickley housewife and mother when she submitted a grant proposal to the Child Health Association in 1950. She requested $600, to bring to Sewickley a noted child psychologist from Manhattan. Child Health came through with the grant, as they always do, and Mrs. Nix worked closely with her expert, eventually founding the Sewickley Child Counseling Center, which provided counseling to children and families from the community. Her devotion to children experiencing emotional problems, especially those who also had learning difficulties, caught the attention of Dr. Benjamin Spock, who was at the time on faculty at Pitt. With his encouragement, and the input of several local community leaders, Mrs. Laughlin’s bequest to the Fresh Air Home was eventually combined with Mrs. Nix’s Child Counseling Center, and from that happy marriage, today’s Laughlin Children’s Center was born.

Elizabeth Lesquin was our founding executive director; she shepherded Laughlin through the better part of its first two decades. A force to be reckoned with, Mrs. Lesquin shaped the character of the organization—hiring expert clinicians, establishing community outreach programs, writing a detailed history of the Center—before turning it over to Mary Beth Duffy, a much-loved and admired social worker, who put a compassionate, human face on the Center during her long tenure as Laughlin’s second executive director. My immediate predecessor, Karen Nickell, did much to put the Center on firm financial footings, so that by the time I inherited the position of executive director, all I really had to do was shut up and get out of the way.

Mary, Virginia, Elizabeth, Mary Beth, and Karen are giants upon whose shoulders I’m riding. But they are not the only ones. There are many other giants out there, who allow me, as Bernard of Chartres said, to see farther, not by virtue of my sight or stature of my body, but because I am carried aloft and elevated by the magnitude of their hearts, the magnitude of their concern for the children of this community. I’d like to recognize some of those giants tonight:

The staff of Laughlin Children’s Center, who, day in and day out, go above and beyond the call of duty, to help generations of children become better students, better communicators, and better people. You are, quite simply, a dream team for any executive director, and I’m honored to call you friends. Would you stand up so we can recognize you?

The members of Laughlin’s governing boards, especially Alec Laughlin, who can’t be here tonight. Alec is the grandson of Mary and Alexander, and he has served faithfully on the board of trustees since our founding in 1956. A true giant in generosity and compassion, Mr. Laughlin sets a high bar for the other board members, and I am proud to say that they all meet the challenge exceedingly well, with grace and kindness and an abiding desire to see the Center flourish. My board and my dear friends, Francye, Laurel, Trish, Wayneen, Marcia, Annie, Leslie, Gretchen, would all stand up so we can thank you?

Members of this wonderful community—kind, generous merchants like Cora DeLoia; our beloved Dingy and Robin Hays from Party Ants; Jen, Kirsten, and Alex from Village Green Partners; my collaborators from Youth Connect, Child Health, The Y and the Sewickley Nonprofit Consortium, especially Joan Murdoch, Susan Kaminski, Trish Hooper, Barb Thaw, Elisa DiTommaso, and Dan Murphy. Each of you, along with many others that I haven’t named, are truly giants in our community. In board rooms and in living rooms, you let me sit on your shoulders at meetings and events, so that I can see laid out in front of me the whole beautiful, complicated quilt that covers the Sewickley Valley. Without you and the passion that all of you bring to the collaborative efforts we undertake, I most certainly would not still be in Sewickley. I thank you for your presence in my life, both professionally and personally.

Finally, though it will spell certain death for me on the ride home tonight, I’d like to ask my family—Tom, Judy, and David—to stand up so that rest of you can see how tall they are, and what broad shoulders they have.

For almost 48 years, my parents have lifted me high, supporting me through good days and bad, carrying me on their shoulders as we climbed life’s mountains and descended into its valleys together, always teaching by example, how to walk the walk. And for over 20 years, David has been my long-suffering giant, carrying me, quite literally, in the early days, when I was making $12,000 a year as a social worker. He doesn’t complain when I am an uncomfortable, ungrateful passenger, weighing him down with my short Irish temper, my impatience, and my general foolishness. Every day he lives the line from Paul’s letter to the young church at Ephesus: Be ye kind. I am a lucky, lucky man to have all three of these giants in my life, and I love you very much.

So, thank you once again to the staff of the Herald, as well as the community members who wrote in to nominate me as man of the year. I appreciate, very much, your confidence in me, and the kind words that so many of you have shared with me over the past few weeks. But know that I am simply, as Bernard wrote nanum gigantum humeris insidentes—a regular Joe riding on the shoulders of the giants around him.

1 comment:

  1. Loved reading this and seeing the pictures! I wish I could have been there. Congratulations Doug - very proud and blessed to call you friend. Debbie H.