Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tenacity of a pitbull, heart of an Irish poet

Joanne Palladino shocked us all when she presented a check
for $10,000 to the OOIDA’s scholarship fund last week
in memory of her longtime companion, the late Bob Driscoll Jr.
Here at OOIDA headquarters, we often refer to the words or the work of Life Member and past General Vice President Bob Driscoll Jr. Even though Bob succumbed to cancer in 2003, his work is very much a part of our daily operations. So who was this storied guy?

He joined OOIDA in 1984 and spent nearly 20 years of his life making trucking a better place to work.

He was pure Jersey with the tenacity of a pitbull and the heart of an Irish poet. In fact, he wrote poetry, beautiful poetry, and was president of the New Jersey Poet’s Society. He was a friend and mentor to me. I could tell many stories about him, but today I’ll just share a couple of my old favorites.

Because of his experience with trucking and hazmat, Bob was very involved with hazmat training and response for years. When hazmat rules were developed, he served as OOIDA’s representative. He was dedicated to exposing the dangers of “toxic backhauls” and led the Association’s charge to crack down on appalling practices.

Years ago, Geraldo Rivera wanted someone from OOIDA to appear on his show to discuss using reefers to haul food one way and chemical or biohazardous stuff back. Most truckers would be a bit intimidated by Geraldo, whose habit was to chew you up on the spot. Who from OOIDA could get our message across and at the same time handle Geraldo? It was, of course, Bob Driscoll.

About the same time, he represented truckers by presenting OOIDA testimony to members of the U.S. Congress. The lawmakers were discussing at one point the practice of hauling medical waste in reefers. Those who claimed a plastic-lined reefer trailer was sufficient protection had their say. Plastic was spread out on the floor and purported to be tear-resistant. When it was Bob’s turn to speak, he waved around a sample of this super-duty plastic and demonstrated how tear resistant it was by easily poking his finger right through it. It was very effective.

For us, losing Bob to cancer was tough, but it was a deep personal loss to his “other half” and beloved companion, Joanne M. Palladino, who was as dedicated to education as Bob was to trucking. She is retired from teaching but still serves as president of the National Education Association’s Italian-American Caucus.

Last week, Joanne arrived from New Jersey, making a surprise visit to OOIDA’s Grain Valley, MO, headquarters. She had not been here since Bob died 10 years ago.

She asked to speak to the Board and on Friday delivered an emotional and eloquent speech that made jaws drop and tears flow. In Bob’s memory, she presented a check for $10,000 to the OOIDA Mary Johnston Scholarship Fund. It was one of the largest contributions made by an individual to the scholarship fund since its inception in 1998.

In her speech, she stressed the importance of “familia” in her Italian-American upbringing and added a sentiment that really moved me.

“And that’s what we are at OOIDA,” she said. “Familia …”

It was a great moment. And now I have a new Driscoll story that joins my list of favorites.