FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 2, 2011
MAYOR BLOOMBERG DELIVERS EULOGY FOR MATTHEW P. SAPOLIN, MAYOR’S OFFICE FOR PEOPLE WITH DISABILITIES COMMISSIONER
The following are Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s remarks as delivered at St. Patrick’s Cathedral
“Good morning everyone. I am here today on behalf of so many people who would like to express their profound grief over Matt’s passing. There are the countless New Yorkers who knew Matt as one of the City’s finest public servants. Then, there are Matt’s colleagues and friends in government, who are just devastated by his death. I can’t tell you how hard the news that hit City Hall was taken– including by me.
“I have worked with and admired Matt for nearly a decade and I visited him just a few weeks ago, and spoke to him on the phone a couple times since then. Today, I am thinking about Matt Sapolin, and I miss him, but I will tell you right now: I refuse to feel sorry for him.
“Because that’s something Matt never did. He never felt sorry for himself. Not once. Not once during the terrible and unfair illness that took him; not once during 35 years of blindness, which he simply did not consider a disability.
“And that was what made Matt so special. He took the events or conditions that you and I might consider impediments – and he just didn’t shy away from them. He owned them. He marshaled them to his advantage. And nothing could stop him.
“Growing up in Islip, for instance, he wanted to try out for his school’s percussion group. But the teachers wouldn’t let him. So instead, the way you would expect, Matt took private lessons and formed his own rock band, ‘The Eggplants.’ Where he came up with that name, I don’t know. And later, when the band delved into the heavy metal scene, ‘The Eggplants’ became ‘The Iron Eggplants!’
“Nothing could stop Matt. When he was told by his junior high school that he wasn’t allowed to wrestle, he refused to take no for an answer. And he ended up not just wrestling, but captaining the varsity team at NYU – a feat that did earn him a glowing profile story in Sports Illustrated.
“Nothing could stop Matt Sapolin. As a teenager, Matt would sneak out of his house in the middle of the night, climb down from his second floor bedroom window – you can’t make this up, this is true - roll his parents’ car out of the driveway so they couldn’t hear the engine start and then he’d get behind the wheel, and his friends would pile in with him, and together they’d take the car for a joyride. I love to imagine the face of any traffic cop who would stop that car!
“Matt was truly fearless. He was a guy who skied, who played softball, who could school you in a game of chess and who ran the New York City marathon – not once, but twice. How he managed it all, I don’t know!
“He even handled the cancer that took decades and decades to finally defeat him – and it’s going to be said that Matt was at work right up till the end. Now many knew just how much pain Matt was in during those final months – but he was still making calls, still solving problems, still helping people even as he was heading into his last surgery.
“He cared so deeply. And in turn, everyone cared so deeply for him. New York’s greatest servants have always been the ones who’ve understood the promise of our city and worked day and night to make it a possibility for everyone. Matt was clearly one of those great servants. As the leader of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities for almost a decade, Matt didn’t just represent New York’s disabled, he actively involved them in the process of improving our city. And that approach produced results.
“The reason why Yankee Stadium, the Highline, the World Trade Center Memorial, and our ferries and ferry terminals are fully accessible is because of Matt. The reason why many New Yorkers with disabilities have protections that keep them from being priced out of their apartments – a dream 25 years in the making – is because of Matt and his partnership with other advocates. And one of Matt’s proudest accomplishments was, I think, one of his best: developing pioneering guidelines to help architects design buildings and spaces that are accessible for all. Already, many other cities, states, and even countries are using our guidelines as a blueprint for their own.
“And in 20 years, when these kinds of guidelines are commonplace and buildings are accessible all around the world, people will remember Matt Sapolin as the original inspiration. What a fitting achievement to remember on this day, when, following the lead of the United Nations, people around the world celebrate International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
“But Matt’s greatest legacy won’t be the physical structures he helped design. It will be the lives he helped change. Being around Matt for his infectious charm, you learned so much about yourself: The sense that anything really is possible; that nothing really is out of reach; and that we’re all in this together.
“You can find that spirit alive in his two wonderful children: Toscany, who wants to be a dentist, and Trevor, who is a lifeguard and hopes to continue saving lives as a member of the FDNY. I’ll be happy to introduce you to the Commissioner later, I don’t know if that helps- but I’ll be happy to do it. Toscany and Trevor: I understand the pain you are going through right now. I lost my father when I was about your age and I remember it hurting tremendously. But I promise that the best thing that you can do – what your father would have wanted you to do – is to continue living your lives to the fullest, just as he did. Have a smile on your face, tell jokes, have a good time, be a little bit serious about work as well, but he would not want you to feel sorry for him. He’d want you to remember the good things and go out and make him proud.
“Miriam: I understand there are few things more difficult than being a parent at a moment like this. It’s just not the natural order of things and Monsignor Richie, I thought, said it well. None of us have any reasons why things like this happen. But you can take pride in the fact that you and Matt’s father raised him to become the strong, independent leader that we will always remember.
“And Candra: My heart goes out to you. I know how Matt lit up your life. I’ve heard about some of the wonderful moments you two shared: renovating the house; going crabbing in the marina in Islip; listening to old episodes of Johnny Dollar radio drama. Johnny Dollar insurance investigator, when I was a kid I listened to those; the surprise wedding you had last year. I heard about your first date at CBGB’s, and how you were so surprised to see Matt playing the drums instead of the piano – because you said, don’t all blind musicians play the piano, just like Stevie Wonder? Not Matt, he was different. I also heard how whenever you’d get lost driving, you’d phone him up on the phone, and he’d be able to instantly guide you to wherever you needed to go. You called him your personal GPS. Well, Candra: you should remember that he’s still here guiding you. He’s still here guiding us all with presumably his old friend Compass at his side. Compass shed more than any dog I have ever met in my life. You could walk in a room with Compass and right away be covered.
“You know, Matt left us with some unforgettable lessons. He showed us that courage has no bounds. That the human heart has no limits. That you need only a sense of adventure to truly see the world for all its endless possibilities. And for that, we are eternally grateful.“May God bless the memory of Matt Sapolin. And may God bless the lives of those he touched.”
Stu Loeser (212) 788-2958
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