Memorializing my Grandfather and Marca Bristo: Continuing the good fight

By Rev. Butch Brosman, Co-Chair of Georgia ADAPT

Loss is one of those effects of getting older that can not be escaped by anyone. A universal truth and constant that serves to invariably humble us all. And hopefully from the ashes of grief, we rise on the other side of the experience just somewhat wiser and compassionate. Recently, I was dealt a bad hand and a proverbial ‘double whammy’. First it was my grandfather, Wes. A true mountain of a man, thrill seeker, world traveler, and proud educator. After being regaled with just a mere handful of his tales of adventures, one would probably never guess that he was born deaf. If there was one thing in his life that my grandfather fervently despised, it was being mistreated because of his disability. In the small town of Aberdeen, Washington; where he retired, he became known through-out the municipality as the area’s most stringent watchdog enforcer of the Americans With Disabilities Act.

Mere days, not even a full week, after the passing of my grandfather; we lost the legendary Marca Bristo. Coincidentally, it was cancer that claimed the both of them. Bristo’s work and contributions to the community of Americans with Disabilities might aptly be labeled nearly unparalleled. She was a founder of the Independent Living movement and one of the architect writers of the ADA. Under the Clinton and Obama Administrations, she served as a voice for the Disabled community while filing the role as a key advisor. I never got the opportunity to meet Bristo personally. However, after her passing, I did get an opportunity to talk with an associate who did know her quite well. Sheryl Grossman, a fellow Disability Rights activist and advocate, recalled Bristo as her beloved mentor. Bristo was one of the first people Grossman met when she joined the movement. Grossman tells of Bristo as a tough leader who commanded respect from a room and always told it like it is. “Marca always got her results because diplomacy was her greatest strength,” Grossman told me as a final moral of the story. Bristo always made a point to keep in contact with her protege in Grossman and was assuredly very proud to consider her an equal.

Pouring over articles and obituaries about Bristo, I am moved and revitalized regarding how she was a fighter to the very end. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had contacted Bristo before her passing, asking what she could do for her. Bristo, ever defiant tells Pelosi, “You can. Move the Disability Integration Act to committee and a floor vote.” The Disability Integration Act is a bill that proposes to guarantee the civil rights of Disabled Americans by giving them the choice to receive needed medical services in their own homes as opposed to being forced to live in facilities in order to receive those same services. The passage of the DIA bill has also been something that I have been personal vested in as I have spent the last few years as a disabled activist trying to see get passed through Congress. Bristo’s last words to Pelosi gives me a chilling reminder that the struggle still continues.

It’s important that we share stories like these of the ones we have lost. Not only as a part of our own grieving, but as a way to keep their memories with us. However, let us not forget that old chestnut of actions speaking louder than words. So here at this juncture, the burden lies upon me. A disabled 32 year-old man residing in the Atlanta area. I am currently, and have been for the last 3 years, the co-chair for the Georgia chapter of ADAPT. A disability rights activist following in the footsteps of my grandfather, Wes Brosman, and Marca Bristo.