About Don Etkin
I don't know exactly how Don came into our life. I know someone told him of our story and I know he instantly felt compelled to pick up the phone and give me a call. I often think of that and the courage it takes to reach out and stick your nose in someone else's business. It's something I certainly wouldn't have considered prior to Maddie's illness and one of the many lessons I take away from that experience.
Don was definitely one those sort of folks you appreciate hearing from. Not only had he seen friends and family suffer through the illness, but, in 1968 at the age of 13, he'd battled the same cancer Maddie had and won. In no uncertain terms, he wanted me to know we could beat this too. Needless to say, I took an instant liking to this man!
Don was a true cancer warrior and was committed to riding the PMC to fight the disease. During that first phone call he asked if Maddie would be interested in becoming a Pedal Partner for their team. I had to tell him no as we were already working with my company's team. As it turned out Don was hooked up with Valerie Bradley, a teenage cancer patient whom Maddie and many of the other younger girls adored. It was a great matchup and we were very excited for both of them.
I met Don for the first time at Fenway Park as I was bringing Maddie and my son Michael to the Pedal Partner kickoff. As we were about to enter the building I noticed a tall,lanky man standing off to the side. He was looking for someone. "Don?" I asked. I don't know how I knew it was him. There was just something about him. He had a bag in his hand and after I introduced Michael and Maddie he presented Michael with a very special present...his PMC riding jersey from previous year. He'd given it to Michael to recognize him for the large amount of money he raised for the Norfolk kids PMC ride. In June, Don drove out and cheered Michael and the rest of the kids on during their ride. Afterwards he hung out and served ice cream to the kids with Maddie and Pam, one of the nurses from the hospital. I could see he loved being involved in the cause to beat cancer and he loved all of the other people that joined him in that effort. He had big heart for those who's lives had been touched by the disease.
Later that summer, after the PMC, I learned something else about Don. He had very special gift for writing and a keen insight into life and people. I'd already been mesmerized by his previous PMC writings, which we posted on the Maddie's website, but when I read his "2007 Observations" I knew here was person that saw and understood life just a little differently than the rest of us. I was truly grateful for our friendship.
This year, Kristen and I were especially touched when he sent pictures of the riding jersey he and his wife Kerry made up. What a wonderful tribute to Maddie and our family. We were so touched and proud he would do that for us....for Maddie.
Don passed away on November 21st from a brain tumor. It came from out of nowhere and was completely unexpected. Both Kristen and I feel blessed to have known Don. We know in our hearts that Maddie greeted him as he went home. I'm sure it was a crazy reunion. I thought it would be appropriate to share Don's own words to us in an email he wrote shortly after Maddie passed away. I hope you find comfort in them as we did.
Dear Ernie and Kristen,
Last night as I was getting onto the highway in awful traffic, I looked up and saw a stunning sunset: blue and orange sky streaked with pink and yellow and white. It was beautiful on its own, but then I was struck by how it looked so similar to Maddie's sunset seascape. Then I realized that every beautiful sunset will remind me of Maddie, and while that idea was touched with sadness, I found that I was very, very happy at the prospect of forever connecting that beauty with her.
I started thinking about sunsets. A beautiful sunset is something we can miss if we get distracted. It never lasts as long as we would like, and it is always followed by darkness. And the sun always rises the next morning.
I hope that everyone who loved Maddie will be inspired to enjoy sunsets.
Don's 2001 PMC Observations
Don's 2002 PMC Observations
Don's 2003 PMC Observations
Don's 2004 PMC Observations
Don's 2005 PMC Observations
Don's 2006 PMC Observations
Don's 2007 PMC Observations
Don's 2008 PMC Observations
Don's 2009 PMC Observations