I want to thank everyone involved with ACCESS for the wonderful and important work you do, and for giving me the opportunity to include some personal thoughts in your spring newsletter. Two years ago, I completed work on the first and only book I’ve ever written. In the final chapter, I did some soul searching about my role as Governor and I’d like to share with you a portion of what I wrote. “[Not long after taking office], it became clear to me that, as Governor, I was going to make a difference — and in more ways than one. I began to realize that even in the darkest moments on the job, I could somehow bring light to someone, somewhere. Ironically, this realization came during the saddest time of my term in office: the evening of July 17, 1996, when TWA Flight 800 crashed off the coast of Long Island.”
When I heard the news, everything that seemed important just minutes before suddenly became irrelevant. And reflecting on it later, it occurred to me that one of the most important functions a Governor can fulfill is to extend a caring hand to people in despair and give them what they need most in times of sorrow: comfort, understanding, and a shoulder to cry on. So days after the crash, we organized a memorial service on the beach closest to the site of the disaster. The service was broadcast worldwide, enabling people everywhere to join in the mourning and to show love and support for the family members who needed it so desperately. I ended the service by telling family members: “Long after this horrible tragedy, and long after those who have assembled here have dispersed, we will be thinking of you.”
I have never stopped thinking of them. The moments I spent with them are forever etched in my mind and in my heart. Many of them told me that the service and all the state’s efforts on their behalf helped to ease their pain. What this means to me, I cannot possibly express in words.
There’s more to being Governor than simply governing. One of the most important things we can do in life is to give a piece of ourselves to lighten the burden of others. I learned this lesson from the family members of those who died on TWA Flight 800. I am eternally grateful to them, and they will forever be in my prayers.
– George E. Pataki
Former Governor of New York