My friend Linda
Saturday, October 14, 2017 at 10:32AM
steve

I am still mad at myself.  Following the American Council of Young Political Leader's fifty-year gala last September, I was standing around to congratulate my friend Linda Rotunno on an amazing event, but she was rightly mobbed.  No big deal, I'm in DC every 6-8 weeks, and surely I'll see her on the next trip, so I just took off.   That was the last time I saw her.

For the most part, I've lived the dream.  Not a lot of kids who were born in a dying Midwestern town grow up to work for a  President.  Plus I am blessed with a wonderful spouse, and great friends.  But into my late 30's, there was one piece missing - travel.  And by travel, I don't mean to spending a week in London, I mean, go places people don't often go, and meeting interesting people.  

When I was a kid, I would spin the globe in my room and pick places I would visit.  The farther afield the better.  I've long had a curiosity for different cultures, so much so that I had once thought I would go into the foreign service, or maybe the Peace Corps.  But before i knew it, life took over.  My career took off, I got married, and in a flash, fifteen years had passed, at least until the day when my friend Chip Burpee sent me an email, with an application for the American Council of Young Political Leaders.  It seemed too good to be true - someone would pay to fly me to a foreign country for a couple of weeks.  Sign me up.  A few months later, I was on my way to the Philippines and Malaysia.

Linda ran the organization, and I just happened to sit by her at the dinner our team had before we headed halfway around the world.  i remember instantly liking her.  A month or so later, I was back in DC for this or that, and took Linda to lunch, to thank her for the opportunity.  From that day forward, I rarely went to DC without visiting her, even though often those conversations were just me listening to her stories.

While some 20 years older, she had been a hack like me early in her life, and later in her life, had found herself in this world of organizing political and cultural exchanges. Personally, I couldn't get enough of it, and she made it easy for me to remain engaged, first by asking me to host a group from Pakistan and India in 2014, then in 2015, knowing she was fulfilling a dream of mine, sent me with a group to Africa.  

In early 2016, upon returning from Africa, we got together for one of our routine meals.  After listening to me ramble on about Africa for an hour, the topic changed -- she had just learned prior to our meal her cancer had likely returned.  

She didn't seem overly concerned.  She continued talking about her dream to retire overseas one day, and spending more time in Asia with our mutual friend from Malaysia, Jack Lim.   And in the immediate, she was mostly concerned whether her doctor would let her make a 50 hour or so trip to rural Burma, to help a previous delegate to the US with the birth of her first child.   

Eight months later, when I saw her the morning of the gala, she told me she was feeling well.   What I didn't know was the cancer had come back with a vengeance.  Everyone who knew her knew it was a real possibility - very few knew it was imminent.

We talked about the group from Turkey I'd be hosting for the 2016 elections.  We talked about our friend Jack, who had wanted to badly to come to Washington for this event.  We caught up on the on the Burmese child from her winter trip, and she made me promise that I'd go there with her one day, just as she had taken friends of mine before. 

If she was feeling ill, she did an amazing job of hiding it.  

A year ago today, my phone buzzed.  A text.  Linda had died.  Cancer.  What?  How is this possible.  I called the guy who texted me, who confirmed, yes, she was gone. 

I texted a few people who would want to know, then called Jack.  It can't be true, he said.  But it was.  We both cried. 

The next day, two days after she passed, I got a note from Linda thanking me for coming to the gala.  

A year has passed. Jack is getting married in December at a wedding that Linda wouldn't have missed.  I am hosting three young leaders from af the world she loved.  I've hosted groups Pakistan, India, and Turkey, and today have new friends in far corners of the world.  I've traveled to the Philippines, Malaysia, Cambodia, Namibia, and Botswana, and one day, I'll fulfill the promise I made to go to Burma.   Today, my life is genuinely fuller, because of Linda.

I just wish I had hung around that gala long enough to say thank you one last time. 

Article originally appeared on Steve Schale -- Veteran Florida Man Politico (http://steveschale.com/).
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