08/27/2014 08:03 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Real Meaning Of Life Begins When You Find A Cause

NBA and college basketball great Jimmy Walker once said to me, "Ray, you were one of the best outside shooters in college basketball and the highest vote getter in Boston history, when you were Mayor of Boston, so now that you are out of politics and sports, does all that excitement and meaning in life come to an end? Basketball is over for me, so what happens next? I was on a ride, but the ride came to a sudden stop", Walker continued. Jimmy Walker was a young black kid, I knew from the playgrounds in Boston, who I liked, instructed, and convinced him to attend Providence College on a basketball scholarship. He would become one of greatest college players in the country and was number one draft choice for the Detroit Pistons in the NBA and had a good pro career. Unfortunately, Jimmy died in 2007 from lung cancer. I suppose that after a bout with fame and notoriety, it's normal for someone like Walker to have the emotion of wondering what's next in life after sports. It certainly passed my mind many times after leaving the Vatican, especially after working closely with Popes, Presidents and Prime Ministers. Most notably, John Paul II and President Bill Clinton.

So lets jump to July of 2014 and I'm addressing the Massachusetts House of Representatives in formal session. The Massachusetts House Speaker and the entire Boston delegation was honoring me with an Official Proclamation, which read in part; "former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican, Mayor of Boston and State Representative Raymond L. Flynn is honored for his outstanding record of dedication and commitment to public service and his outstanding career, as a college All American Student Athlete, who later became an outstanding political leader, who continues to inspire people, across the state because of his tireless commitment to racial justice, the handicapped, poor and children with physical disabilities. Following the official Massachusetts House of Representatives Proclamation presentation, I addressed the 165 members of the House. I would like to share the comments I made with you, because I think they may reflect how many people may feel in their so-called retirement years:

Mr. Speaker and Members of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Thank you for this special honor. I am honored to stand before you to accept this Proclamation on behalf of the people, who elected me to public office, my parents who raised me and my family, who supported me. And of course, my Catholic faith who guided me throughout life.

My 6 children hosted a surprise 75th birthday party for me. Many leading Boston public officials attended the Mass and celebration, including Mayor Martin Walsh and Congressman Stephen Lynch. They announced that the city and state would plan a public memorial to honor my legacy. While I was surprised with the wonderful gesture of respect, I honestly didn't feel that any memorial to me was necessary. The honor of serving my country and the people of Boston was reward enough for me. For me, it was always been about the City, not me. I never sought money or power and when I left public life, I had neither. But I do appreciate your respect.

I was proud to represent and fight for the people of South Boston and Dorchester from 1971 to 1979 here at the State House. We enacted into law, some of the most important and responsible policies in the country, from helping reform the states higher educational system, provide funding to create millions of new jobs, building new schools, to modernizing our drug and gun laws. Also, introducing and debating Official Resolutions here in the House, we were even able to begin the process for Peace and Justice in Northern Ireland and to end apartheid in South Africa. These discussions were heard from 10 Downing Street to the New York Times. Black and Irish politicians, Democrats and Republicans worked together for the "common good." This is where I learned my politics. This is where I learned how to negotiate and yes, compromise to help pass good and fair laws. That legislative experience helped me to become an effective manager of the City of Boston, but it was in my home, church and neighborhood, where I learned to treat everyone with dignity and respect. When I was named "America's Most Effective Municipal Manager" in 1991, I said it was because of my Legislative experience. I'm certain that Mayor Marty Walsh will find the same thing.

Let me close with a true story. A story that brings me pride to this very day. It's about having served in the House and to have played a part in helping enact landmark legislation, which prohibited discrimination against special needs and handicapped school children. Before I was elected to the Legislature, I remember my wife's Special Needs 6-year-old nephew John had to travel to St. Coletta's Catholic School for Special Needs children in Hanover, every day from South Boston. Almost an hour each way. Public schools at the time did not mandate such educational programs for Special Needs children. While running for the House in 1970, I constantly spoke out about this discriminatory public policy. When I got elected, with the help of many Special Needs parents, I set up State House meetings with Governor Frank Sargent, Representative Mike Daly of Brighton and their staff's at the State House to discuss children like John. Several Legislator's had similar constituent concerns. Momentum soon grew to pass Legislation for the first time in our State, that would require local communities to provide every child a public education, regardless of their physical or mental condition. With the active support of a lot of dedicated parents and advocates, and Speaker Dave Bartley, the Daly-Bartley Bill was enacted into law. I think the first of its kind in the country.

So now, many years later, my own Special Needs grandson Braeden, who we love passionately, was born with a serious disability, but today attends a great public school Special Needs program in Braintree. I visit him at school regularly, I read to the children in the school and I even coach his Challenge Baseball League team for handicapped people from the South Shore, which is sponsored by the Teamsters Union 25, and its outstanding leader Sean O'Brien.

I know the kind of compassionate and enlightened political leadership, when I served here and that you still strive for here today at the State House. Please don't ever forget all the Braeden's in Massachusetts and throughout the United States today. They need and depend on you. This Legislature must continue to make life better for millions of handicapped children, the elderly, the sick and the forgotten. You must continue to represent the values of the people of our State.

If Jimmy Walker were here today, I would say to him, my new journey is even more important today, then politics or sports ever was.

Not only have I sought out and met with leading medical experts throughout the U.S., but was invited to attend the First International Adult Stem Cell Conference at the Vatican, where leading world scientists and medical experts participated in this remarkable first ever world conference.

At the Vatican, I had the chance to talk to the Pope, about my grandson Braeden and his disability. I also was able to meet and developed a relationship with noted scientists, including Christian Drapeau from Stemtech International, who told me about all the progress taking place with adult stem cell nutrition. Dr. Jeremy Schmahmann, who heads up the Ataxia Unit at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, also has told me that progress is being made in medical technology and is hopeful that maybe someday, people like Braeden, will be able to walk and talk, like other healthy and happy children.

Until then, I will continue to pray and fight for Braeden and families like his, organize advocacy groups, and appeal to our government, private foundations and generous contributors to help fund this life-altering and critical medical research. But first, we have to educate the public about the complexity of the problem, that people like Braeden are experiencing. We also need to get President Obama and the Congress to begin to take these brain diseases more seriously.

I have been in contact with U. S. Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, who has been working hard to increase Federal funding for research, but we need to contact other members of Congress to do like wise. I have even written a screenplay, which would bring to the screen an inspirational story, and create awareness to the challenges that many families experience. But thus far, Hollywood has not responded to our plea.

Thank you Speaker Bob De Leo, Representative Nick Collins and all you respected members of the House, both Democrats and Republicans. Loyal and caring, Americans all. Stand tall, none of us are perfect, but political leaders like you, are still the best hope in helping children like Braeden.

And, as I tell my friends, this is the best and most challenging and rewarding job, that I have ever had in my life. And as, I tell my friends, the real meaning in life begins, when you find a cause.
meaning of life

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