Monday, March 2, 2009

Very Sad News

Vito Perriello died yesterday morning. 

To say that it's a very sad day would be an understatement. Having worked on Tom's campaign for six months, I feel like I got to know Vito, his wife Linda, and the rest of the Perriello family pretty well during that time. There are a lot of things floating around the blogs about Dr. Perriello--see Dem Bones, Blue Commonwealth, Blue Virginia, and What Is Right--and I just wanted to add a few of my thoughts.

At the end of my fourth year at U.Va., I signed up for a fellowship with this up-and-coming young guy's congressional campaign. He was a Mark Warner/Tim Kaine style moderate who wasn't afraid to talk about his faith and didn't sound awkward in the process. He had been to Sierra Leone, where he worked for international justice and worked to end the widespread use of child soldiers. He believed very strongly in the power of young people to take ownership of their future through the political process, and he was looking for a few good organizers. This Perriello guy sounded like the real deal, and although I didn't know what I was going to do with my life, I knew I wanted to do more than cast a ballot in 2008. This fellowship would give me two months' experience working in my home district for a candidate I could actively support.

On that morning the first week in June, I walked into a classroom in downtown Charlottesville for the week-long training session. Of the twenty people in the room, I only knew two. Then I noticed that everyone seemed to be gathering around a table in the corner, where there was coffee, orange juice, fresh fruit, and a tray of bagels--we slowly began to realize that all of it had been delivered to us by our candidate's parents, Linda and Vito. After a few hours of learning names, talking politics, meeting Tom and doing some training, we got to meet Tom's parents as they brought in our lunch, which they would do every day for the rest of the training week. As the afternoon drew to a close, we began discussing what we would each do for dinner--we were mere steps from Charlottesville's downtown mall, where surely we could find somewhere to eat. But the Perriellos had another idea, and they invited all of us--the sixteen new fellows, as well as the regular campaign staff--to their house for barbecue dinner. 

But it wasn't just that Linda and Vito had voluntarily subjected themselves to feeding sixteen college kids for a day, it was that they had welcomed us. They welcomed us into their home and into their family. When we got to their house, it was as if we were just more brothers and sisters who had been there before and had always belonged--we met Tom's nieces, nephew, brothers, sisters and in-laws, and we played volleyball with them in the backyard. I looked around at people I had known for less than twelve hours, and it was as if we'd known each other for years. It was only the first time I would get that feeling--the Perriellos made sure that we always knew their house was open to anyone on staff who needed a place to stay, and there were many nights like that first one. I think their house was full pretty much every night of the campaign, and they never showed any signs of minding. 

We saw Tom's family often, right up until Election Day and in the weeks after. No matter how stressful the campaign trail became, no matter how good or bad things looked, Vito was always the same guy--he always greeted me by name, with a handshake and a smile. He and Linda even got to know who my relatives were. I'm not sure what else I can really say, but if you've ever been impressed with how friendly and welcoming the Perriello family is, then you've seen Vito's handiwork. Tom and his siblings are carrying on the charitable, caring example that Dr. Perriello set throughout his life. It's what made Tom who he is--it's what made a bunch of college kids give up their summer to work long hours knocking on doors, and it's what made me believe in this campaign strongly enough to stay on after the fellowship ended.

You couldn't ask to meet a man with a bigger heart than Vito. My thoughts and prayers are with Tom, Linda, everyone in their family, and anyone else who was ever fortunate enough to have known Dr. Perriello.

Vito Perriello: 1941-2009

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