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Are We There Yet?
By Jan Withers | June 30, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Victim Services , Drunk Driving

Ah, summertime... vacations. I remember my parents would take the family on a vacation every summer. Each of those excursions included a long road trip. I remember as a child thinking the time in the car was endless. My sister and I would cry, “Are we there yet?” several times a day on those journeys.

I remember similar excursions with my children, including the same universal question from the backseat. On one trip to the North Carolina coast, our youngest would utter that question and our reply was “4, maybe 5 hours.” Following that trip it became our family joke – everything would take “4, maybe 5 hours.”  Our daughter, Alisa, would love to tease her little brother with that reply, much to his chagrin.  

Maybe two summers after Alisa was killed, Joe and I felt we needed to ‘get away’ for a while.  I just knew Hawaii would provide some calm, a temporary salve on my broken heart. Hawaii was as close to heaven in my book as one could be – perfect weather, spectacular scenery, and laid back people.

You can guess what I am going to say now. I did not escape my pain; it simply went with me. I honestly had anticipated a respite from my sorrow. I was shocked to learn that I couldn’t enjoy my time away like I had hoped. The anguish was just so raw and, of course, why would I think I could keep it back home while I took a vacation from it.  I cried out, “When will I get there?!”  

In time, as life moved forward, I learned that I did, too. I am not ‘over’ my daughter’s death, but I have moved forward into a new life, with this loss part of my reality. Am I happy again? Yes. Do I miss her? Yes, every moment of my existence.

As summertime brings opportunities of relaxation, of family gatherings, and time for vacations, those of you in the early years of your grief may wonder, “Are we there yet?” I want you to know there can be light at the end of the tunnel. Your ‘there’ will be different than what you knew, but you will know when you arrive. Your new ‘there’ will bring light and smiles once again – it will just be a different ‘there’.

I like to say I am not over Alisa’s death, but I am moving forward every day in my new life, and I take her with me in my heart.  

Highway Safety Hero
By MADD | June 19, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Drunk Driving

MADD National President Jan Withers was honored yesterday by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) with a Highway Safety Hero award for her efforts to eliminate drunk driving. The award was given to Members of Congress, federal and state leaders and citizen activists who have advanced safety initiatives.

In addition to the Highway Safety Hero Awards, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety announced a new award, the Senator Frank R. Lautenberg Highway Safety Leadership Award, to honor the former New Jersey Senator’s legislative legacy in advancing highway safety laws.

The list of those honored by Advocates at yesterday’s event, including Senator Sherrod Brown, Congressman Ted Poe and Congressman John Lewis, was truly distinguished. 

MADD values our partners, like Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, and we look forward to working with them to eliminate drunk driving.

Congratulations Jan for this much deserved honor.

Legislative Reception on Capitol Hill
By MADD | June 12, 2014 | Filed in: National President

Today, MADD held a recognition event on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to honor MADD National President Jan Withers for her years dedicated to reducing drunk driving deaths, serving victims of this violent crime and preventing underage drinking.

Jan has been involved with MADD since 1992, when her 15-year-old daughter, Alisa Joy, was killed by an underage drunk driver, and has served as president since July 1, 2011.

During Jan's three year term as our National President, we have seen significant progress on our Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving®, for which she has been a tireless advocate. Jan has worked to pass all offender ignition interlock laws in eight states, and has worked with lawmakers to fully codify MADD’s Campaign as part of the most recent highway reauthorization bill, including continued funding for high visibility law enforcement crackdowns, a new robust ignition interlock incentive grant program, and authorizing the Driver Alcohol Detection System for Safety.  

When asked what the most rewarding part of being MADD’s National President, Jan said:

“My spirit is filled when I meet the volunteers and drunk driving victims around the country, who choose to make a difference by dedicating themselves to saving lives and helping other victims and survivors. These are such courageous people who are taking something so devastating and creating a positive change.”

Jan’s leadership, expertise and compassion has helped MADD make great strides for drunk driving and underage drinking prevention, as well as victim services over the past few years, and we couldn’t be more grateful for her efforts.

Thank you Jan for all you do!

Father’s Day, June 2014
By Jan Withers | June 4, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Victim Services , Drunk Driving

At MADD, we like to say we are not just mothers. We are fathers, sisters, brothers and friends.

As we move into June, we celebrate Father’s Day. My thoughts go back to the time immediately after Alisa was killed.  Following her death, friends frequently asked Joe, my husband, how I was coping. Seldom, however, did anyone ask me how Joe, Alisa’s dad, was doing. Our society seems to have such a belief in the strength of maternal love, frequently ignoring the intensity of paternal love.    

I happen to be writing this on Memorial Day, which is especially significant to my family because my first husband, my children’s natural father, was killed on active duty when they were very young. He was a wonderful daddy – always loving and active in their lives. I loved co-parenting with him. I thought there could be no greater partnership. When he died our world fell apart. Not only did he make the ultimate sacrifice protecting our country, my children also made that sacrifice.  

Jennifer & Alisa with their daddy, Doug Withers

A few years later, Joe Sikes walked into our hearts, nobly and humbly taking on that role of daddy. What a gift he is. He just openly and quietly loves my children as he does his own, without hesitation nor fanfare. I love co-parenting with him, too! They are not ‘my’ children, they are 100% ‘our’ children. He is just like that. Anyone who knows this family knows how heartbroken Joe was when Alisa was killed by a drunk driver. Today Joe and I walk hand-in-hand in our commitment to end this violent crime and support others who walk with us on this journey.

Alisa with her daddy, Joe Sikes

I think of all the bereaved fathers at MADD who grieve the needless death of their precious children. Their hearts are shattered, yet their resolve is strong—the resolve to diligently work until there are no more deaths or injuries caused by drunk driving. They are a powerful force in MADD. They are “Mothers” too – Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  This Father’s Day, I wish to honor all the fathers who are “Mothers” in this mighty organization and tell you how deeply I appreciate each of you.

Jan Withers
MADD National President

Without Mom on Mother’s Day
By Jan Withers | May 6, 2014 | Filed in: National President , Drugged Driving , Drunk Driving

Little Landon lives without his mommy, DeAnna Tucker. She was killed by a drunk driver in 2011 while buckling him in his car seat. She had just spent the last few minutes of her life looking at her wedding gown in a bridal shop.

This year, just like the last two, Landon will not be able to hand his mommy a sweet bouquet of flowers or a priceless card with his drawing on it for Mother’s Day.  Instead, he may lay flowers by her grave. 

He came to the capitol building in Jackson, Mississippi on April 23rd with his grandparents, Chief Alan and Barbara Weatherford, to witness Governor Phil Bryant sign into law a bill that requires any convicted drunk driver with a BAC of .08 or greater who obtains driving privileges during a license suspension to use an interlock.  It was an emotional day for Alan and Barbara as they watched their brave grandson be embraced by Speaker Philip Gunn, who was instrumental in getting the bill passed.  Speaker Gunn’s own mother, father and sister were also killed by a drunk driver in 1988 and, as he said to me, “leaving me entirely alone.”          

Speaker Gunn, seeing the picture of Landon’s mother on a button he was wearing, leaned down and asked him all about her.  He then escorted Landon and Chief Weatherford to the House Chamber, even sitting Landon in the Speaker’s Chair. Landon had his baseball with him and is very proud of being a pitcher.  He happens to be left-handed.  Speaker Gunn shared with Landon that his son is also a left-handed pitcher, playing for the Memphis Tigers. Their instant deep bond was palpable. They now have an unspoken connection that will last their lifetimes.  Notice in the official photo Speaker Gunn’s hands on Landon’s shoulders at the bill signing. 

This Mother’s Day, let’s remember and cherish the thousands of children who have been left motherless because of substance-impaired drivers.  Let’s recommit our determination to doing everything we can to eliminate this scourge from our roadways so that Landon’s children will know a nation without drunk driving.

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