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PBB: When the coronavirus strikes someone near and dear

Brooklyn Law School’s former dean shares impact on family as nephew, 25, fights for life

April 14, 2020 Chuck Otey
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(Columnist’s note: At this point in our history, we need to learn from and be informed by those whom we respect and trust, like former Brooklyn Law School Dean and President Nick Allard, whose family was stunned to learn that one of its members had been stricken with COVID-19. Allard’s ebullient nephew Jack Allard, a lacrosse star, has been bravely battling this dreaded virus.)

Allard served as the eighth dean of BLS from 2012 to 2018, and as president from 2014 to 2018. He remains professor of law at BLS and teaches courses on government advocacy and other subjects. He has also served as senior counsel in the public policy and regulation practice at the world-renowned Dentons law firm since 2015.

We’re grateful to Allard, a leading champion of the rule of law, who, through the years, has been gracious and generous in his contributions to “Pro Bono Barrister” and the legal community of Brooklyn, for sharing with us this trying moment. The following is a message from him that we recently received.

“Dear friend, If you need any incentive to try to steer clear of COVID-19, the story of our nephew Jack Allard in The New York Times. Jack has finally shown some slight improvement, but he is hardly out of the woods. Our prayers fly to Jack, his dad Andy, mom Genny, sister Kate and his love Michaela.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

“A robustly fit 25-year-old former All-American lacrosse player commuting to work in New York City, Jack was hospitalized Sunday, March 15 and remains in a medically induced coma. The confusion, red tape and mismanagement that delayed getting Jack tested, obtaining test results and blocking treatment options are almost certainly experienced by people everywhere in the country.

“I am overwhelmed by the calm, stubborn determination and focus of Jack’s parents and the support they have received from so many others, including especially son-in-law Mike Goldfarb and our machitin, Dr. Stan Goldfarb (Princeton ’02 and ’65). I worry not only about Jack, but all those who lack such remarkable health advocates and support.

“The day will come when there will be a reckoning and lessons learned from the inept, foolish and corrupt undermining of the public health that exponentially exacerbated the pandemic. And, certainly, now is not the time for more criminally negligent happy talk and false promises about available tests, treatment and the end of the crisis. This irresponsible misinformation has its own dangerous consequences.

“For now, please do all you can to protect yourself, your loved ones and others. We also should urge our government officials to focus on the immediate health and economic needs of those most in need, rather than enact grand gestures to divert us with contemporary versions of bread and circuses.

“With hopes for your health and well-being, Nick Allard.”

Updated notes

(Columnist’s note: Dean Allard shared with us these additional notes as well.)

“Sweet are the uses of adversity.

“If history repeats itself, the surreal forced interruption of our lives and ‘business as usual’ caused by the awful COVID-19 health crisis will create unexpected opportunities and positive change. In an odd way, this dangerous virus, which is causing so much suffering and hardship, in the long run could help cure some of what ails our society, economy and government institutions.

“The prospect of learning lessons from a deadly pandemic that no sane person would wish for is little comfort to anyone who is enduring severe illness or the loss of family and friends. I viscerally understand this because of the anguish, worry and helplessness our family feels at this moment. Our 25-year-old nephew, a robustly fit former All-American lacrosse player, is in a coma after being stricken with the disease and hospitalized in critical care more than a week ago.

“Perhaps feeling and empathizing with the pain of victims and those who love them can motivate us all not to waste this crisis. For starters, we should not forget and repeat mistakes, whether from recent economic meltdowns, natural and man-made disasters, or historic cataclysms.

“There is ‘no new thing under the sun.’

“It is the conceit of people in every era to believe that they live in unprecedented times. In fact, in many respects there is ‘no new thing under the sun’ (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Not ever. We can learn from experiences within memory like the great recession of 2008, devastating hurricanes and earthquakes, and 9-11. Using a longer lens, we also can look to the distant past for examples of both mistakes to avoid and for encouraging instances of the triumph of human spirit.

“For example, I can recommend James Shapiro’s ‘The Year of Lear.’ It is readable, wonderful, and a fascinating way to spend some time while sheltering at home.

“The book is about 1606, a year of turmoil in England. Theaters and businesses closed because of reemergence of bubonic plague. The so-called ‘black death’ is estimated to have killed between 30 to 60 percent of the population of Europe during the 14th to 17th centuries, when it lingered over the continent.

“1606 ‘Black Death’ led to Shakespeare’s great plays.

“The year 1606 was also the immediate aftermath of the November 1605 gunpowder plot, mass assassination attempts, and a time of brutal repercussions that underlined unprecedented religious, social, economic and political divisions. Sound familiar? You could have an interesting debate over whether circumstances were even worse then than they are now.

“Remarkably, in that bleak early 17th century yearlong period, Shakespeare wrote three of his greatest plays: ‘King Lear,’ ‘Macbeth’ and ‘Antony and Cleopatra.’ In the previous years after Queen Elizabeth’s death under King James’ rule he ‘only’ managed to co-author the rarely performed ‘Timon of Athens.’ Until recently, when the play was reimagined in a sparkling revival by Washington, D.C.’s Shakespeare Theatre Company, ‘Timon’ has been considered to be the bard’s worst dud and a sign that he was in decline. Yet in the midst of the untold misery of the world’s worst century’s long pandemic, Shakespeare rose to new heights writing classic plays for the ages.

“Indeed, the accelerated discovery, settlement of the New World (not a blessing for indigenous people) and the high Renaissance and Age of Enlightenment were propelled by the cascading repercussions of the Black Death.

“Around the same time, perhaps inspiring all of us now self-jailed at home, Sir Walter Raleigh even managed to write the first volume of his ‘History of the World’ while jailed with his wife in the Tower of London. (The couple also conceived and delivered their third third child while incarcerated.)

“We have learned from somewhat more recent history that how you ‘winter’ is critical to long-term success of a difficult endeavor involving setbacks, loss and unexpected dangers. For example, think of Washington at Valley Forge, Lewis and Clark’s exploration of the American continent, and literally Sir Ernest Shackelton’s ‘splendid failure’ saving every member of his British expedition to the South Pole, trapped on ice flows in Antarctica. As important as how well you do in fair weather, in fact, how you prepare for spring, summer and fall during the tough times of winter determines how well you do when conditions are better.

“Keep up the search for ‘silver linings.

“Instead of focusing exclusively on the news about the spread and effort to contain the virus, which we are all fixating on, I am suggesting we also can be looking for silver linings that might emerge from the health crisis.

“You might be bemused by how my 7-year-old grandson Teddy reacted to one of the coronavirus consequences. When he heard that his weekly Sunday Hebrew School class was cancelled for two months, he could barely contain his delight. With glee, he reverently shouted, ‘There really is a G-d!’

“Recalling my own Confraternity of Christian Doctrine Catholic Sunday School classes many years ago, I believe Teddy’s sentiment may be timeless and universal for children across all organized religions and generations.

“Unlike Teddy, I am having a little harder time seeing the bright side. I have worked remotely at home for almost two weeks. Even though, or perhaps because, my wife and I are certain that we are both perfect, we are beginning to worry that for us the biggest danger of COVID-19 is what we might do to each other if we remain together in such close quarters much longer. Like a mongoose and a cobra in a box.

“So, for inspiration, I am collecting stories and insights from family, friends, work colleagues and the news about positive encouraging developments arising in the midst of all the terrible news. These include, for example, the uses people are making of the unexpected gift of time, engaging more at home with those closest to each of us, reconnecting with others we care about to check in on their well-being and if possible assist, and to reconsider how best to take care of ourselves and others. We also get to re-evaluate all the many things we are doing without. With a viral gun to our heads we are learning about and experimenting with new ways to function on an unplanned emergency basis.

“As we necessarily adapt, we have the chance to determine what can be done better, and to appreciate even more what we are missing and cannot ever replace: the warmth of a handshake, hug or kiss, sharing a performance or sports event with others in a live audience, reacting as a performer or teacher to an audience, hearing a community waking up in the early morning on your way to work, the fragrance of spring blossoms, the taste of someone else’s cooking, or the smug naughty feeling of superiority that comes with knowing to stand to the right on an escalator.

“‘Tis an ill wind that blows no one no good.’

“Our daily news is beginning to contain many stories that can boost us. One of my favorites is the Italians ordered to stay at home serenading health workers in gratitude from their separated balconies. Then there are the restaurants donating food, manufacturers converting their production lines to needed health equipment, and the 3-D printing companies volunteering to make ventilators. In Washington, D.C. and the 50 states there are even some harbingers of nonpartisan cooperation. Who would have thought?

“Certainly, we all can agree that this terrible episode can teach us how to be better prepared and what to do next time. We can hope that our government leaders can do more than throw money at the current problem with the always false notion that ‘we have no choice.’ Remember that the policy of bread and circuses marked the decline and eventual fall of Rome.

“Progressing in the ‘best and worst of times.’

Let’s prioritize emergency spending on immediate health needs and take the time to determine how best to protect the lower-income workers, the less advantaged, and to productively stimulate the economy without bankrupting our future economy. We need to be fiscally responsible and not waste money we will wish we could afford to spend later on specific, well-considered, better understood needs as the impact of the current rapidly evolving crisis becomes clearer.

“Let’s also encourage law enforcement and lawmakers to guard the public from the worst of human nature that always slithers to the surface in emergencies: predatory pricing, profiteering through abuse of public trust and fraud.

“Throughout the founding and history of the U.S., when in the course of human events it becomes necessary, its people have made good use of adversity.

“An irritating piece of grit causes an oyster to make a pearl; something new, different and beautiful. It is up to us all to determine how to use the impetus of today’s public health crisis to renew and strengthen our world and make it even better in the future.”

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  1. Patsy S Gaffney

    I am so glad to learn that Jack has shown some improvement, even though slight, as you mentioned. I saw Genny, his mother on Martha MacCallum’s TV show some weeks ago, but have not seen any follow-up since then, so I appreciate the update. Your story touched my heart as I am sure it did many others, and I want you to know Genny, that I have prayed for Jack every day since the show aired and will continue to do so! Please let me know how I can get updates via Facebook or other social media. Be strong in the Lord, and be of good courage!