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    Been There, Done That: Nine Decades And Counting By Alice Herb: A Lovely Story

    By Alice Herb


    I have told this story many times but finally, friends have urged me to write it down for all to read. It started when my older son, Ricky, was so off the rails that he missed school 34 out of 40 days. I was dumbstruck but not for long. I found an alternative public school that he could attend and hopefully graduate from high school. And then something wonderful happened. 


    Ricky started coming home for dinner more than he had in a long time. At dinner he would regale us with what “Alfonso” had said about concerns that we had tried to tell him about, but that he had dismissed out of hand. We were all delighted and quickly began to refer to this mystery man as “St. Alfonso.” I asked my son if I could come to meet Alfonso, to which he replied “No, Alfonso has not asked to see you.” Ultimately, it turned out that Alfonso was one of my son’s teachers, and eventually, he did ask me for an appointment. Eager to talk to this wonderful person, we met soon after. I waited in the office for a while and then a young Black man in a bright blue patterned dashiki replete with a large gold chain appeared and I knew that indeed he must be Alfonso. Surprised, I followed him into his office and we had a most interesting and successful discussion about my son. We agreed to meet from time to time, which we did. He encouraged Ricky to attend to his studies and Ricky actually graduated on time.


    Unfortunately, my son was a victim of the drug craze of the ‘70s and died in 1979 when he slipped back one more time to celebrate whatever, after being clean for a long time.  


    But a couple of years after Ricky’s graduation, when he was still alive, Alfonso called me at work at ABC News, where I was then working, to ask me to see him. He had been laid off, due to the then NYC financial crisis, and needed to find employment. He came in and we talked about where he might fit in at the network. I had no hiring power but did call HR and arranged for an appointment for him. Alfonso had a lengthy appointment there but no jobs suited his training. He subsequently told me that he had learned a lot about seeking employment in the “White” world. We did stay in touch for a while, and I found out he started working with adolescents needing encouragement. 


    Once again, several years went by. I was now employed as a bioethicist at SUNY Downstate. I received a call from a colleague, who had started an organization tracking HIV/Aids statistics under the supervision of the Fund for the City of New York. A vice president for the Fund had come to ask her for a medical referral for a young woman who was HIV positive. The young woman was very nervous about seeing anyone who could possibly share her terrible secret. My colleague suggested that this vice president of the Fund contact me, and when he heard my name, he apparently jumped up excitedly and told her we had a history. Both my colleague and Alfonso called me immediately. I took care of the adolescent he was trying to help and once again, Alfonso and I were in contact. We had lunch at my house and caught up with each other’s lives. He was grief-stricken to hear of Ricky’s death. What he told me then was that I was one of the few people who tried to help him get a job and that he was grateful. I reminded him of what he did for my child and that what I did was minimal compared to his contribution. By then Alfonso was well placed in organizing assistance for adolescents and had become known for his work. He had access to many celebrated and important people who supported his work. He was particularly eager to do something for me, but I assured him I was nowhere near as powerful or connected now as he was and that I was happy with what I was doing. He was now an important example of success born out of need. 


    Again some years passed when another colleague, who was aware of my connection to Alfonso, called to tell me that Alfonso was retiring and that a party was scheduled. I was asked to attend but did not tell him I would be there.  


    I did attend. I thought that after so many years, he surely wouldn’t remember me but I wanted to celebrate him. I could hardly believe that so many years had gone by that he was old enough to retire. When I received the invitation, the photograph showed a most dignified, impressive man and the text introduced him as the Rev. Dr. Alfonso Wyatt. Along the way, Alfonso had acquired a Ph D., and several Masters’ degrees, including one in Divinity, and had founded an organization that helped thousands of adolescents. The young and wise teacher had reached the pinnacle of success in helping young people. When I came to the party, I was asked whom I knew and I mentioned only Alfonso and was told just to move into the crowd and I would find him. The crowd parted seeing this old lady with her cane and there he was. He looked up and shouted, “Alice, you came.” He came over to hug me and immediately took me to the first row to sit with his family. I was floored. Then many people spoke about the love and guidance he gave to so many. It was truly a love-in. When he got up to speak, he thanked as many as he could and then stopped and looked at me to tell the audience about what I did for him. By then I was in tears. When it ended, we promised each other to meet and just catch up. I went home proud as could be of this remarkable man whom I helped just a little bit, yet was able to see him as the lovable and highly effective human being he was.


    We haven’t been able to get together yet but I hope we will. These are the stories of my career that I love to tell and a reminder of the connections my beloved son made for me. I hope you’ve enjoyed the story of the Rev. Dr. Wyatt as much as I have had telling you about him.


    Alice Herb is a retired attorney, journalist, and bioethics consultant. Having reached the age of 90+, she’s more than ready to share her experiences and opinions with agebuzz readers. Want to comment on something she’s said? She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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