A 90-year-old woman calls veterans advocate Michael O’Bric ’56 in a panic. Her husband, a World War II veteran, is in failing health and she doesn’t know where to turn. O’Bric is on the case. “I’ll make some phone calls and figure out how to get her help,” he says.
It’s all in a day’s work for the Woodway, Texas, resident, even though it’s his retirement occupation. Since 2004, the former Marine Corps Mustang has been an activist speaking out about the tragedy of 20 veterans committing suicide every day as well as the backlog of more than two million claims at the Veterans Administration. O’Bric helps military families who are on food stamps, unemployed, homeless or suffering from brain damage or PTSD.
On his 80th birthday, he received a U.S. Congressional Veterans Commendation, recognizing his outstanding service on behalf of his brothers and sisters in arms. O’Bric appreciates the irony, since he has frequently found himself at odds with Congress.
“We have more veterans with medical problems from five wars than we have medical professionals to care for them,” he asserts. “It’s time for Congress, the media and even our veterans groups to step up and take responsibility for this travesty—and then solve it.”
Still A News Junkie
Susan Pawlak-Seaman ’74 and The Standard-Times of New Bedford have had an ongoing relationship since the late ’60s, when she was a contributing student reporter from Freetown-Lakeville’s Apponequet High School. That gig turned into a summer job at the paper’s Middleboro bureau. “The receptionist had school-aged kids and wanted the summers off,” she notes.
Pawlak-Seaman continued at the bureau through Stonehill and then after graduation. In 1979, she was promoted to the city room in New Bedford, where she’s been ever since. This year, she marks her 40th year as a Standard-Times staffer.
“I fell in love with journalism,” she explains. “I love the unpredictability—how every day is different. Plus, I’m a news junkie.” Over the years, Pawlak-Seaman has segued into editing but still keeps a hand in writing. Her weekly “Live and Learn” column “is a little bit of everything,” she says. Topics have included everything from pets to women’s issues.
Though she’s seen the newspaper industry change dramatically in the past 40 years, Pawlak-Seaman has no plans to retire. “I love the breaking deadline stories where you have 20 minutes to write and report. I like the immediacy of posting it online,” she concludes. “I like it all, and I like that I still like it.”
Finding His Calling
When Andrae Vandross ’02 transferred to Stonehill in his junior year, he expected it might be awkward joining a class two years after its formation. Instead, he thrived.
“I absolutely loved being immediately invited into the fierce debates and impromptu jam sessions in O’Hara’s common lounge at all hours of the night,” says Vandross, who began a three-year fellowship in hematology/oncology at UCLA in July after completing a three-year residency in Internal Medicine at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
Jumping into campus life, he became a resident assistant, sang in the a cappella group The Chieftones, and played drums as the only student member in a faculty band, the Stonehill Jazz Quintet.
In 2001, however, a Stonehill Undergraduate Research Experience (SURE) assistantship, which allows students to perform significant, publishable research with a faculty member, helped him find his true calling: medical research.
“I’ve wanted to be a doctor for as long as I can remember, but SURE was where I discovered that I wanted to make research a part of my career,” says Vandross, who researched the synthesis of polyhydroxylated pyrrolidines with Professor Louis Liotta [Vandross, above right, pictured with Professor Liotta in 2002].
After graduation, Vandross became a researcher at Yale University’s lab for two years. He then attended the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine and graduated in 2009.
Looking ahead, Vandross says his goal is “to become an academic oncologist, conducting research and treating patients with hematologic cancers.”
When Paul McCarthy ’74 graduated from law school at the University of Notre Dame, he imagined a long legal career. In the summer of 1981, however, while working as an attorney in a Chicago firm, McCarthy saw an investment opportunity. He purchased a boat and started the first Architectural River Cruise on the Chicago River.
His entrepreneurial idea took off, and after several “crazy” years working at both the firm and building the tour business, McCarthy realized that “this field could be more of a career opportunity rather than just an investment.” So he quit the law firm to earn his master’s in public administration from Harvard University while spending summers in Chicago running his cruises.
After graduating from Harvard, McCarthy decided to branch out and test the waters elsewhere. He settled on Captiva Island in Florida as his next base of operations. Today, he owns McCarthy’s Marina on Captiva Island and Captiva Cruises, which includes a fleet of six boats and offers private charters, ferry services and cruises to places such as Cayo Costa Beach, Pine Island Sound, Cabbage Key and Boca Grande.
McCarthy, who is also active in his community, area nonprofits and the local church, notes that every day is different. “As an attorney, I worked in my office and there was a routine. I didn’t have the variety that my life has now. I had a promising legal career, but this path has certainly been a lot more fun.”
On June 29, 2005, while working as a stagehand at a concert in Minnesota, Marie Cooney ’83 fell off the stage. Landing directly on her head, Cooney sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and is now treated for seizures. Although she only spent a couple of days in the hospital, years of various medical appointments and rehabilitation treatments have followed.
As Cooney explains, people living with the after effects of a TBI are “forever changed.” Injured persons learn to cope with the daily symptoms of their injury, such as chronic fatigue, extreme sensitivity to light and noise, overstimulation from crowds and many cognitive challenges. But “the hardest part is dealing with the realization that you are no longer, nor will you ever be, the same person you were before,” notes Cooney. “Those recovering from a TBI will often experience depression, anxiety and heightened emotions, which can affect their personality.”
Reaching out to those who have experienced the same type of injury, Cooney now volunteers as a facilitator for a support group for people with TBIs, their families and friends. She also spreads awareness through speaking engagements, including radio broadcasts. Nine years after her own injury, Cooney is still learning to embrace her new self with the support of her partner and family. She has returned to work as a stagehand in a very limited capacity, enjoys writing again and loves to sail. “I feel like I can now reclaim my life and embrace the me that exists now. Aspects of my former self remain, and included are new things that were never there before.”
Peter Paul Payack ’09, a production artist and editorial cartoonist, created an illustration for ESPN to use on their social media channels on the one-year anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombings. Payack ran this year’s Marathon as a member of the One Fund Boston team and raised over $10,000.
WINNING TROPHY Bethany Conway ’13 was among hundreds of people who posed with the World Series Trophy, courtesy of the Boston Red Sox, at the President’s Dinner in May.
GUYS WITH TIES Note the stylish ties on these sharply dressed men. Members of the Class of 1952, John Kelly, Alfred Martel and Bernard O’Malley [l to r], wore their unique purple and gold ties to Reunion in June.
Answer to Heard on the Hill Quiz:
So, why was the late James “Lou” Gorman ’53 called “Lou” when his full name was James Gerald Gorman? A star first baseman in high school, his teammates started calling him Lou, as in Gehrig, and it stuck.