Carrie McGee’s introduction to Cammie McGovern, winner of Samuel Minot Jones Award for Literary Achievement (SAMMY) on May 2, 2017 atAmherst College.
Cammie and I were introduced to one another by a fellow parent when our children were in Amherst’s integrated preschool together. We found ourselves cast into the world of disability, where information was scarce and what did exist consisted of the movie, Rain Man and articles filled with medical jargon.
The experience of raising a child with a disability is like one of those roller coaster rides in the pitch dark, where you know big ups and downs are coming, but you don’t know when or from which direction. Today, I have the privilege of honoring Cammie McGovern. To me, she represents the high point of this adventure. The gift of deep and true friendship.
Cammie and I are the unlikeliest of friends. Cammie grew up in the heart of Los Angeles; I grew up on top of a mountain in the Adirondacks of New York. Population: 50 people, 100 dogs. Cammie was raised by her Harvard Educated professor parents; there was no library in my town which means my reading options were How To manuals and my mother’s Harlequin romances. Had we a movie theater, I might have known that Cammie’s sister was the famous actress, Elizabeth McGovern. But we didn’t.
We did, however, get one spotty television station – if it wasn’t cloudy. And we watched Happy Days. So you can imagine my thrill when we received an award from Parent Magazine for starting Whole Children and traveled to New York City for the ceremony. After walking a red carpet into a private celebration filled with several well-known celebrities, none other than Henry Winkler walks over, looks at Cammie and says, “I know you.” After which the three of us laughed as an amusing story unfolded that involved a young Cammie backing up in a van full of summer campers and the demise of Henry Winkler’s prize car.
But at the playground, when our kids were still little and Whole Children was barely an idea, we didn’t know how different we were. We were simply two fellow mothers, sharing the same fear that our kids would not have friends, would not be part of their community unless we did something about it. We set out to build Whole Children, a place where our children could not only meet friends, but learn how to be friends. We had already realized, you can’t assume that will happen on its own.
Now, I am shy by nature – having spent most of my time with trees and animals. I understood the mechanics of how to start a business and because we lived it, our little group of founders had a keen instinct for what our kids needed. But, I have no doubt that without Cammie, we’d still be a sweet little class, helping a handful of kids in the back room of a building next to the Connecticut River.
Cammie is like a spring breeze blowing into a room after a long winter. If our group lost hope, doubting whether we could pull this off, Cammie would breeze in and announce, “Good news guys. Cheap wine in dixie cups.” Then she’d proceed to pour everyone a little wine, propose a toast to us, and off we’d be, working through the next insurmountable problem. If Cammie wrote a grant, we got the money. We could write down the details of what we were trying to do, but Cammie’s gift of words made people understand why it was important. If Cammie found out more students were needed to run a class, she’d show up, checkbook in hand and neighborhood kids in tow – “Where do you need them?”
In time, our children became friends. Whole Children grew, and hundreds more joined the community. One friend at a time. But, we realized it wasn’t enough to create a safe and welcoming community for families. It was important to also educate – even try to change – the larger community, so someday everyone might be welcome everywhere.
Cammie set out to accomplish this in her books – from Eye Contact to Say What You Will and A Step Toward Falling, and now with her books for younger kids, -Just My Luck and Chester and Gus – she has provided for others what we didn’t have. A genuine portrayal of people with disabilities in literature. Example after example of the different kinds of friendships that are possible when people take the time to learn something new, to see past the surface differences and find the gifts hidden in each of us.
She has traveled the country, tirelessly, sharing her work, her words and her humor. Through Cammie’s gift as a writer, her engaging presence in everything she touches, and her extraordinary work ethic, she has planted seeds that will grow, ripple outward, and continue to make the world a better place.
It is my privilege and honor to introduce my dear friend, Cammie McGovern.