Art Ellison Reminds Us: ‘Feed the Damn Kids’

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Art Ellison, a three-term House Democrat from Concord, sits in the family room of the Granite VNA Hospice Center to discuss the food bill legislation bill he wants to be passed.

Rep. Art Ellison. D-Concord, died March 22. Mel Myler shares Art’s story.

By Rep. Mel Myler, D-Contoocook

Art is gone. His life journey ended March 22 at 4:30.  He was a fighter and gave so much to others.  In these last three weeks, he showed us his grit and a way to leave us.  I have only known Art in his legislative years but have come to respect him for the life he served others. 

He came to the House Education Committee with a 38 years life of service in the adult education community of the NH department of education.  He enabled those adults who had given up on themselves a second chance for an education to better their lives.  He told me, “I just wanted to give voice to the voiceless.”

 Just think of the 100s of lives he changed, challenging them to be their better selves.  And, talk about feeding kids – he was a master advocate.  When he got knocked down on a vote, he didn’t cower at the opposition.  Oh, no, he came at them again and again saying, “Feed the damn kids.”  Always a fighter and advocate for the underdog.  He even impacted his eight year old granddaughter.  When a reporter asked what would be her one wish, she responded, “I will be happy when a wealthy person will realize that they should share the wealth with others.”  I can hear Art’s voice in her comments.

For two years, Art struggled with his health.  He finally relented to getting a handicapped parking spot near the State House when our Democratic committee members insisted on it.  He moved from this hospital to this one searching for a cure to his heart and lung issues.  Then, three weeks ago he called and said, “Mel, it is time for me to throw in the towel!”  I said, “What do you mean, Art?”  “The doctors have informed that there is nothing more they can do for me.  I just want to come home to be with my friends and family.”  So, home he came not to an isolated, dark room but to the bright VNA Hospice center.  He was there to celebrate his life.

As the word got out that he was in hospice, the parade of friends, colleagues, and teammates started.  He had an opportunity to share stories, experiences, and life with those who came to bid their final farewells with a guy who gave so much to others.  AND in him exposing himself to others – his smile, his humor, his spirit, he gave all a gift of how to die with dignity.  This was his lasting gift to me.  Celebrate your life with others.  Invite others in, engage them, laugh, cry, hold hands, give hugs.  As he did in his life, he gave voice to us to be with him.

As we enter this life passage with Art, we obviously challenge our own mortality.  We know there are only two certainties we share in life – we are born and we die.  The question is “What do we do in between these two life events.”  The last time I was with Art, he was in a deep sleep.  I held his hand and told him that his life has made a difference in the lives of the many he touched.  As I talked, shallow breathing got deeper and I could feel that he heard my voice in acknowledgement of his life’s accomplishments.  How about your life?  Have you made a difference?

There will surely be regrets – I didn’t spend enough time, what more could I have said, we had unfinished business, I didn’t get a chance to shoot hoops with him.  But don’t dwell on the “what ifs.” Stay in the present moment and move on.  The Buddhist faith has a belief in the concept of IMPERMANENCE – that life is ever changing, life is always moving, it never stays the same.  We are in that moment.   We can be sad and share the loss of Art Ellison, but he would say, “Come, now, let’s move on!!”  The sorrow of the moment will soon be replaced by the fond memories of the past.  So, let’s remember Art for his contribution to others, to our own life, but move quickly, for what Art would say, “Fight on, never give up the fight!”

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