He was adopted. From the beginning, the cards were stacked against him. His mother left him at an orphanage at the age of two. He probably could have wallowed in what he was given as his lot in life, but he decided that feeling sorry for himself, just would not do. And it never did.
Many people know that I love election day. I love politics, government, and everything that has to do with the freedom we have in this country to vote. I worked for the highest ranking official where I lived at one time, and even drove a car in the Vice Presidential motorcade. I was a key strategist in an aspect that helped a ‘no one’ become a State Assemblyman in another life time. Loved all of it since my first campaign when I was twelve.
Without a doubt, hands down, and unequivocally; the greatest mind I have ever met during election-planning was a dear friend, John Pessala. John was like six feet, one million….many kids called him big bird. When he walked in the room, you surely noticed. Not just because of his height but his persona was such that he demanded it. though he never, in all the years I knew him, sought the limelight. His ‘smarts’ at campaigning, getting the word out, and finding votes where no one even looked was unmatched. Many took credit for his work, but to John, credit didn’t matter—-winning did. He had a very distinct way of speaking and as he spoke, you hung on to every word because, you see, John never wasted a syllable. His discussions were usually instructional and if you had a half-a-brain between your ears, you would listen intently to what he said and do what he suggested.
He mentored many. His Rolodex was bigger than a phone book. He loved to place young-aspiring attorneys with internships that matched their strengths. My nephew was one of them. The political party was not as important as the political process. John believed that. He took a special caring for young people. Perhaps it was because he was adopted. He understood the need of having someone watch over you; perhaps, because he did not always have it. Many people have benefitted because of his wisdom.
Shortly after Kaitlyn was diagnosed with T1 diabetes, my phone rang and I picked it up.
“KAR-lya. You-will-be-in-my-office. (Pause) (Pause) Tomorrow at 11. Speak-to-you-tomorrow.” Click.
He was the Counsel to the County Executive at the time. At 11 the next day, I entered his huge office. He summoned me to his desk, and I sat in front with him looking down at me from his chair. It was a tad intimidating. His flair for the dramatic, I’m sure he loved it.
“What-I-am-about-to-tell-you——–only-my-closest-inner-inner-circle-knows.” He reached in his desk and placed a package on the desk. My mouth dropped as I was staring at John’s diabetes supply kit. And he said one sentence that I will never forget. “You-will-do-a-better-job-with-Kaitlyn’s-diabetes-than-I-have-done-with-mine. Learn.”
He was not willing to elaborate, and I didn’t either. I never knew him to ‘miss’ anything due to his diabetes but the ‘charge’ was given me and I understood that ‘whatever this diabetes thing was, now with my daughter at age 2’, one of the most respected men I have ever known was instructing me to do the best we could and to become educated.
It was wisdom I have heeded to this day.
This is my first Election Day without John. He passed away a few weeks ago and as I grew into my family life in Suffolk County, and he, his, in Nassau County; we did not speak all that often but we were in touch. I was out of the Country when he passed and it broke my heart that I could not be here to pay my last respects. I was comforted because in many conversations John and I had over the years, and what he shared, it was clear he trusted me. I knew where I stood with him. That was comforting.
John would continue on in his life and eventually became Nassau Family Court Judge where he finished his career after thirteen years on the bench. He was known, not surprisingly, as a fierce advocate for adoption. Sitting on the bench, allowing families to be joined together was a highlight of his duties. John as a Judge in Family Court, just seemed so right.
His wife, Beth, and two children were so kind to lend him to the world. Heaven knows that there are countless people in this world today who benefitted from his strength, understanding, and wisdom. I thank John’s family for sharing him with so many.
I will miss John Pessala. I learned much from him. I learned that, again, people with diabetes like my two kids who battle it every day, can do anything when they set their minds to it…….even become a Judge. I’m so thankful he shared with me one of his greatest gifts, trust. Being given that from Judge John Pessala is one of the best gifts I have received in my life; it will be cherished forever.
And as was his style, he would never leave an opportunity on the table to advise someone, and I will do the same today as well…………………it’s Election Day; vote. Because if you don’t vote, as he would say, “you’re a ‘yuckle’ “.
Rest in Peace friend.
I am a diabetes dad.
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