By Benjamin Day –
This past Monday melanoma finally took Tim Carpenter, who is best known as the founder and long-time Executive Director of Progressive Democrats of America. Tim was a fierce organizer for social justice. You will hear and read many amazing tributes to Tim, because he was one of those rare individuals who swoops into many people’s lives and leaves an indelible mark. Most of us open ourselves up to a few people, we change them (and they change us) forever, but to everyone else we are just friendly co-workers, neighbors, or friends.
Tim was different.
We spoke a couple days before he died and he was, of course, organizing. Tim only spoke and acted at 100 miles per hour. Whether he was on TV, at a rally, or asking about your family, he communicated on a sort of verbal autobahn that left friends and correspondents breathless and disoriented. His emails consisted of 90% cheer leading and morale boosting for those around him: “Teamwork!”, “Onward!”, “Thanks for stepping up!”, “Building the team!”. Tim always started with thanks, and ended with an exclamation mark.
But what will stay with me forever is how Tim approached organizing as a person. My most vivid memory is meeting with Tim and Russell Freedman a few months ago in downtown Boston, where Tim received specialty care, commuting from Western Mass. We met at Legal Seafoods, and after some brief updates on the campaigns we were working on together, Tim cut work discussion off (as he usually did), and asked how I was really doing. How are my parents? Am I seeing anyone, or am I one of those activists who sacrifices everything for the cause? How am I feeling about my job at Healthcare-NOW? How can he can support me?
Two hours pass, we pay our bill. Tim hugs me, and says “I love you,” as he always does. I tell him I love him, too. Only when I’m seated in my car, in the parking lot, do I realize that Tim is receiving end-of-life care for a terminal illness – his physicians gave him only a few months to live initially, over a year ago – and yet he spends most of our time together asking how I’m doing, trying to support me, and letting me know that he loves me. We were old friends but by no means close friends. This was just how Tim lived his life, and it deeply challenged me to become a better person.
I will miss Tim badly, but I have a feeling that he’ll continue to sit on many of our shoulders for years to come, shouting out encouragement.