In Memoriam: Dolores Thompson, Kevin Thorbourne, Robert DeSimone

Photo of Dolores Thompson in 2008 by Katheryn Laible

Photo of Dolores Thompson taken in 2008 by Katheryn Laible

Three extraordinary souls that I happened to know passed on these last few months. I think part of why I’ve been slow to send a newsletter is because I’ve wanted to pay each one their proper respects. Unfortunately, I still haven’t processed enough to do that for Bill Bohn and another dear soul the world lost over a year ago. There’s so much to say about each of these folks. It’s going to take a while. I’ll tell you a little now and endeavor to properly memorialize each of these “Legends of LI” here soon.

Dolores Thompson

Dolores Thompson – What a force! She was introduced to me as “Queen Dee.” You didn’t have to squint too hard to see her crown. She was regal if she was anything. Tough as they come, she could bring you down with a look. Still, as one dear soul said, “If you didn’t love and respect her, you just didn’t know her that well.”

I’ve never had anyone so point-blank command that folks give a damn and love, breaking it all down as simply as possible for anyone who would listen.

Soon after Dee’s passing about a month ago, Cheryl Blum dug up roughly 30 years of news clippings charting Dee’s adventures as a committed advocate.  A true community Matriarch, Dee was a big reason why there’s a library in Huntington Station, and why the Dolan Family Health Center exists. I can’t even begin to fathom how many kids she impacted for the better as a champion of the Huntington Station Enrichment Center and the local Boys and Girl’s Club, as well as the local NAACP. Among the most ardent advocates Huntington Station has likely ever had, she was also a driving force and deep conscience for its BID (Business Improvement District). There was more…so much more…

Dee did things her own way, that’s for sure, even as she collaborated closely with any and everyone. Naming 2nd Avenue “Dee Thompson Way in her honor was simply putting a formal label on a street many had already long seen as hers. When the Huntington Awareness Day and its Unity in the Community parade were rained out, it felt like the heavens were joining the town in mourning, and knew folks weren’t quite ready to hold that event without her.

The last time I saw Dee, I got to give her a hug over a relatively simple yet deep request she’d had of the powers that be which seemed to take way too long to accomplish…a supermarket. She’d have loved to see it sooner, but was happy at least that it was finally done.

It was so good to see her. She was pure Dee that day, loaded with three more things she wanted accomplished: Improving a difficult corner, beautifying a major train station, and establishing a museum. She admonished me to go see the extraordinary collection of the Reverend Bernadette Watkins which was then on view at the Tri-CYA in Huntington Station for Black History Month. She hoped it would soon find a prominent home.

I am so glad to see this happening, and am sure there are others carrying a torch for the other two items. Grateful thanks and all the best to Melisa Rousseau and everyone involved now in establishing the Huntington African American Museum, and to all who collect and curate to preserve and better understand this important part of our heritage. I’m sure Dee’s watching over you.

Thank you, Ms Thompson, for all you did to serve your community. I’m sure I’m far from the only one who feels they’re a better person because of you. May those that follow make you proud.

Photo of Kevin W. Thorbourne helping spruce up the Coltrane Home.
Kevin in one of his fine hats helping to spruce up the Coltrane Home in 2021.

Kevin Thorbourne

Kevin Thorbourne passed suddenly last summer. It’s still hard to believe he’s really gone. He was not the kind of guy to toot his own horn. However, the first time I encountered him he did explain that he had recently written a tell-all about himself and invited me to read it if I would. Harlem Son is a beautiful, raw, thoughtful, incredibly honest story of life in the city and LI suburbs, starting in the 1950s. It includes observations on local and national events as an African American man, as well as reflections on his personal journey: Triumphs, challenges, missteps, love, appreciation and redemption. 

It’s an inspiring and thought provoking read.

Kevin was the first new friend I made when Ron Stein and others got me involved in the effort to save the Coltrane home in Dix Hills. He was passionate about his church, fine men’s clothing, the political scene, and his personal mission to honor and document Jazz musicians wherever he could find them, sometimes pulling them straight out of obscurity.

I was apparently not alone in finding Kevin to be the most Coltrane of all the Coltrane volunteers, even though I never heard him play an instrument. It was his open heart and mind that reminded us of that legend, his very human commitment to being a “force for good,” and his earnest desire to learn everything he could, especially regarding jazz musicians.

Kevin’s capacity for self-reflection and improvement was only outdone by his indefatigable care for things beyond himself. A professional mediator for many years, he was a natural at being “the oil in troubled water.”  As a Coltrane volunteer, Kevin was known for being the perfect person to consult with when things got stressful. Never dull, it was amazing to listen to him talk to others about whatever they happened to be an expert in. Kevin asked great questions and always seemed to have something profound, grounding, or just plain thoughtful to say.

I think maybe what I’ll miss most is that smile he had that instantly warmed the soul. 

It was a great honor and pleasure to work with Kevin, and to get to call him friend.  He is deeply missed and appreciated.

Photo of Robert DeSimone on an balcony in a tuxedo with a cigar.

Robert DeSimone

Robert DeSimone was my classmate in the Leadership Huntington Class of 2001. A lion of a man, we were never quite sure he got the whole “leading from behind” thing that was really the thrust of this community leadership organization. Still, he was an enthusiastic participant. He definitely made a deep contribution, reminding us that there are people in this world who are simply natural born leaders. Ones with good hearts and minds to match their powerful charismas at that.

Robert’s good-natured advocacy of this fact led him ultimately to be dressed in a toga with a makeshift wreath of laurel on his head as he took on the role of Julius Caesar in a series of skits that were part of the class. I hope to someday locate and transcribe the video of them. Until then, I’ll treasure the memory.

Last I spoke to Robert was maybe ten years ago. He was thinking about his girls, who’d been adopted from Ukraine. He was ardently searching the world for their sister, whom he eventually found. He was also excited about work he was doing to get major corporate leaders to understand their enlightened self-interest and thus adjust their business practices to help save us all.

Trudy and I wanted to get him to do something with Leadership…to talk about these and other things he was passionate about. He was enthusiastic, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. I always hoped I’d catch him around again sometime, but I guess that wasn’t in the cards, either. He is dearly missed.

 

To all out there who also knew and loved these folks, thank you for appreciating them. I’d love to hear your memories.

How to Help Ukraine

Pop art photo of sunflowers

Help Ukraine: Proceeds from sales of this print “Technicolor Sunflower Vibrations” by Katheryn Laible (available at the Firefly Artists in Northport) will be directed to CARE.

Below is a list of ways we might help people impacted by the war in Ukraine.
 
The assault by Russia is a heartbreaking atrocity that many somehow thought Europe was now beyond. As we pray for all involved…which really is everybody at the very least due to our intricately woven economies…I hope it also brings us to see people from other war-torn circumstances with more compassion and recognition of our shared humanity.
 
Fascinating conversations with folks I might think of as “more foreign to me” have underlined this deeply. I am ever grateful to live in such a melting pot where I can look so many different folks in the eye and hear their perspectives. Now that we’re able to gather intimately with strangers again, I realize how very much I’ve missed this, and how deeply valuable it is.
 
They and others remind me to reflect on how very precious things we may take for granted here are; to recognize that this conflict is at least in some deep way about fundamental values we as a Nation have managed to secularly enshrine: Freedoms of conscience and expression. A right to self determination. The basic human right for civilians to live in peace. The fact that for whatever we may have to criticize about ourselves — and, yes, we do have our fair share! —  the very fact that we get to do so as robustly as we will is a valuable privilege too many do not have. 
 
It makes me think about so many things we squabble about at home — and also makes me think about how…while we are far from perfect…our role as a “beacon of light” for so many people the world over has been important. It doesn’t make us as individuals any better than other people, but it does point to some very special things we have managed to achieve and still remain a steward and champion of, if we will take that responsibility. 
 
As our dear Founding Father, an incredible if also very human being, Benjamin Franklin, famously said: We have “a Republic. If you will keep it.”
 
It makes me wonder: If we don’t continue to champion the inalienable rights and noble ideals this nation was founded upon and that so many have fought to more fully realize, then who will? Who possibly could? It helps me get my own priorities in order, even as I’m not entirely sure how to reconcile my fundamental principles into this on beyond wired new world…
 
The term “freedom isn’t free” comes to mind from a number of different perspectives as I am struck by how these ideals may be undermined not only by sometimes violent censorship, but also by active disinformation and practical concerns.  I am concurrently profoundly moved by how very hard people who really know the value of these rights will fight to maintain them, or determine to assert them anyway, despite even the most pressing of practical concerns.
 
We are witnessing incredible stories of resilience and determination among the Ukrainians, as well as among people who stand to support them, including from within Russia itself. At the same time, we are also forced to reckon with the fact that there are people — some of whom wield incredible power — that seem to have no regard whatsoever for innocent human lives, let alone our noble ideals. All the while, we are once again getting to fairly directly experience how deeply interconnected we are, how much it costs to dance with the devil, and how exceptionally difficult it can be to know the best course through things, even when guided by the best of intentions…
 
At the limits of my human capacity to effect change for the better, I pray. For the people of Ukraine. For the people of Russia. For my dear, dear nation and for this whole world we share. May we somehow come through this time better than we were before.
 
Here is a collection of resources for those who’d like to better understand and to help the people impacted by this war. Grateful thanks to all who live to make things better:
 
Tips on dealing with difficult news stories

“5 Tips for Dealing with War in Ukraine News Coverage” from the Fair Media council.

How to talk to your kids about the war in Ukraine (And other tough topics)” from the Long Island Press

 
Some Analyses of the situation

Why Has Russia Invaded Ukraine and What Does Putin Want?” from the BBC

The Grid is “a collaborative newsroom of beat reporters, subject editors and data journalists who work together to show how the areas we cover are interconnected.” It’s quite a way to take in the situation.

 

Insights from the Harvard Kennedy School

NPR and WNYC have been covering disinformation campaigns and their responses in the region for quite some time. It’s a really important topic. Here’s a more general series on Untangling Disinformation from NPR.

Here at home is a a story in Newsday about one Long Island family (subscription required) who has taken in childhood friends from Ukraine.

 
Ways You Can Help
This a sampling of resources. As always, it is strongly recommended that folks research to make sure that whatever they donate to is a reputable organization that aligns with their values.
 

The Long Island Community Foundation provides a list of well-vetted organizations to help refugee and humanitarian efforts related to the war.

Solidarity with Ukraine” from LI Business News (subscription required) reports on a number of local efforts. It also includes links to support an endeavor by Northwell Health in partnership with Doctors Without Borders, as well as funds created by the National Bank of Ukraine, Razom for Ukraine and HIAS in Ukraine

#United for Ukraine: You can find out about this United Way Global effort through the United Way of Long Island and how you can support United Way’s vetted, nonpartisan partners on the ground, including United Way Romania, United Way Hungary and Fundacja Dobrych Inicjatyw (Good Initiatives Foundation) in Poland.”
 

23 Ways you can help Ukraine right now from TimeOuthere.com

30 Meaningful Ways to Help Ukraine from Global Citizen

 
A Few Hyper-Local Efforts

Your school, your church, your office, you local watering hole may be doing something. I’d love to hear about it! Here are a few lovely things we’ve noticed:

Three Places on Long Island to Donate to Aid Ukraine” by LongIsland.com. A Babylon effort, an Islip effort and a Long Islander who was born in Ukraine who is channeling donations

“Artists on East End put work up for auction to raise money for Ukraine” (subscription required) from Newsday. The auction, “Artists for Ukraine” will donate every penny of sales. It’s happening this weekend at “The Church” in Sag Harbor

East End: Main Prospect making dishes to help Ukrainian people” from News12 Long Island, this is a report on a Southampton restaurant that’s already raised over $10,000 making authentic Ukrainian dishes.

Artisans from the Nest on Main in Northport have come together to offer “The Sunflower Collection.” Proceeds from this collection will be donated to Ukrainian relief efforts through World Central Kitchen.

Paws of War in Nesconset have this on their website: “Since 2014, we have brought over 300 dogs and cats, rescued by our troops serving overseas to safety in the U.S. We have provided 100’s of Veterans with service and support dogs rescued from kill shelters.” Now they have a huge focus on Ukraine.
 
 
Magnet from local school Russian Club
"The Russian Club at school was selling these to help people in Ukraine," my son told me. "I thought you'd appreciate that so I got you one." I do. Thanks.