Fourteen years ago, a drunk and drugged driving crash took the life of my 18-year-old son Dustin. At that point, I turned my grief into action, culminating with the National Presidency of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Being the voice of our victims and traveling the country for four years has been the honor of a lifetime and I will remember every moment with MADD.
And while December marks my last month at MADD National President, my travels over recent weeks have assured me that MADD is on the right path to eliminate drunk and drugged driving.
On November 16, I had the privilege of speaking to Law Enforcement Officers of Baton Rouge and surrounding Louisiana parishes to honor them with awards for the work they do each and every day. I was also humbled to meet and deliver awards to Volunteers of the Year who give of their time selflessly. Valerie Cox and her staff greeted me with good ole’ southern hospitality. I’d like to thank Valerie as well as Col. Kevin Reeves, Louisiana State Police, and Lisa Freeman, Louisiana Highway Safety, for graciously giving of their time to hand out awards to the officers and volunteers.
On November 18, I headed to the Volunteer State (Tennessee) and had the privilege to once again attend the Upper Cumberland Tennessee Candlelight Vigil of Remembrance and Hope, honoring those who were killed or injured by drunk and drugged driving. All were welcomed by Norris Skelley, MADD Upper Cumberland Community Action Site Leader, and his wife Aline. Opening remarks were given by District Attorney General Bryant Dunaway. The event was a moving ceremony to remember those we love, while continuing to support those who need our resources and help.
On November 27, my travels sent me to South Carolina where Executive Director, Steve Burritt organized the First Zero-Proof Mocktail Mix-off to raise funds and awareness. He honored all of our first responders (law enforcement, fire, EMS, and coroners.) and non-drinking designated drivers. Five local restaurants and bartenders served up zero proof mocktails but only two winners got to go home with the coveted GIANT MARTINI Glass, engraved as the Judges Winner and People’s choice. It was a fun night. One of Columbia’s top bands, the Root Doctors, filled the Firehouse with great sounds for dancing or listening. Steven can really put on a party full of laughter, great zero proof drinks, music and a silent auction, all while educating those in attendance on the dangers of drinking and driving.
One thing MADD has learned in 38 years is this: if we truly are to eliminate drunk driving, we need our partners in law enforcement, traffic safety, government and volunteers to all work together. We can’t do it without them!
When I came to MADD, I was lost and broken. I spent the year after Dustin died wondering how I would go on without him.
Dustin was loving, caring and full of life. He always made a room light up when he entered. I miss that. I miss his smile, his red hair, his freckles and his creative banter that filled us all with energy and reflection. Losing a child is the worst thing that can happen to a parent. Losing Dustin is certainly the worst thing that has ever happened to me.
My hope in the coming years is that I will still be able to help prevent others from experiencing the heartbreak that has marred the life of our family. The tragedy of drunk driving is in its menacing theft of thousands of lives, its life-changing harm in injuring hundreds of thousands of people and its financial damage that costs us nearly $200 billion every year. Sadly, all of this destruction is preventable.
So, this year, as my travels around the country come to an end, I’ll ask us all to continue to join together in the Campaign to Eliminate Drunk Driving. We can do that by supporting our law enforcement officers who are on the front lines of the battle every day. We can make sure people are sober to start by supporting legislation that requires ignition interlocks for all offenders. And we can help secure the future by supporting the development of technology that will automatically determine whether or not a driver is sober. We need the public’s support each day.
I hope I have the opportunity to see all of you again, because together, we will eliminate drunk and drugged driving and bring about a day when there are NO MORE VICTIMS.