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Cover of Spring - Summer 2003 Issue


First Gent Walks the Walk

Photo of Dr. Raymond Cormier
As Longwood College's First Gent," Dr. Raymond Cormier, visiting professor of French, does a lot more than just support Longwood's President, Dr. Patricia Cormier. Admittedly, that could be a full-time job in itself. But Raymond has found time to be involved with college life on many levels - from the classroom to the streets of Farmville.

At a recent national meeting of the American Association of State College and Universities in San Juan, Raymond was invited to do a presentation on the conference theme, "The Engaged Spouse in the Community." The ways in which he has become engaged could serve as a blueprint for presidential spouses.

Raymond states, "In 1996, when Patty became President of Longwood College, I quickly realized that we were rootless and unconnected to this new community; some kind of involvement by me as Longwood's new 'First Gent' would be desirable and necessary - if only to vouchsafe Patty's success as Longwood's 24th and second woman president ever...and first Yankee."

It wasn't too difficult to find a cause that would involve him with both the community and the college. In 1994, a niece (Michele) was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a debilitating disease that affects ordinary human actions. The family's intimate connection to this disease created a need to do something positive that might make even a small difference. Raymond reminisces, "I thought, what if we could stage a spring afternoon Walk-A-Thon fundraiser to benefit MS, such as Patty and I had participated in down in South Carolina...something that would unite the town and county with the Longwood family."

Raymond's background as an ex-marathoner and runner/walker in numerous such events, convinced him that the idea was doable, but not without help. His initial inquires, however, were none too encouraging. "I checked with the MS branch in Charlottesville and learned that there were already 15 such events in the Commonwealth. Could Farmville and Longwood support yet another?" There was only one way to find out - just do it!

Raymond looked within the Longwood family for help with this project, persuading Dr. Susan Lynch, assistant professor of Therapeutic Recreation, to help with the organization, course layout (4.7 miles), publicity, and a host of other logistical details. "Dr. Lynch and her students brought a level of enthusiasm and support I never expected," recalls Raymond. Other members of the Longwood family would also pitch in - the office of Student Affairs, the office of Greek Affairs, headed by Damien Duchamp, faculty, staff, and Longwood's G.I.V.E. office (group and Individual Volunteering Efforts), the campus service learning outreach program, directed by Ellen Masters, '97.

As word spread, sponsors soon joined the Longwood effort including Aramark Food Services which provided free finish-line foods and beverages; the Piedmont Bike Shop which donated a $500 trail bike as a grand door prize, and a local radio station which provided publicity and a remote broadcast during Walk Day.

The first MS Walk in 1997 drew around 100 participants and raised several thousand dollars. More important, however, were the valuable lessons learned from experience; change the date from a Saturday (too much downtown traffic) to a Sunday; add a major rest stop staffed by a enthusiastic group of 5th graders who handed out drinks, fruit, and snacks to the tired walkers; increase the promotional and sponsorship efforts.

In its third year, the MS Walk attracted over 500 participates and raised over $7000 - money that is badly needed for research. As Raymond states, " in spite of recent publicity which has benefited fundraising - what with Annette Funicello, Richard Pryor, and Montel Williams calling attention to MS - the scientific research has not kept pace. During our walk, I like to remind people at the starting line that we walk because most MS victims cannot. We accept feeling that slight leg and back pain for a while because so many MS victims suffer such pain tenfold every day."

By the time you read this, the MS Walk for this year will be over. Raymond will have rallied his volunteers, recruited his sponsors, and cajoled his colleagues to once again walk the walk with him for MS. As he states, "...there is no other choice but to plunge in and get active - don't be a bystander, be a messenger of hope and help."

Dennis Sercombe

Editor's Note: If you would like to learn more about Multiple Sclerosis, please contact the National MS Society at 800-FIGHT MS (press 1) or check their web site: www.nmss.org