Fight Back Friday: Beat all kinds of cancer (updated)

A month of Making Strides against Breast Cancer walks starts this weekend with walks from Binghamton and Buffalo to Rochester and Waterloo. I’ll be at the Syracuse walk in Clinton Square, where I last worked in 2010, back when this blog was all fresh, shiny and new. So far, the weather looks good, much better than the rain that blankets most of our state today. Regardless of the name, folks, every dollar raised fights cancers of all kinds, as research finds more and more links among the variety of cancers.

Every walk helps raise awareness. If you think people don’t need to be reminded, let me introduce you to Miriam Longobardi. I’ll be thinking about Miriam while I’m in Syracuse, even though she’ll be miles away and won’t walk until Oct. 21. I think about her young girls, who still have their mother, thanks to the baseline mammogram she had 10 years ago. That mammogram found an extremely invasive type of breast cancer that had already spread to her lymph nodes. “I wouldn’t have made it to 40,” she told me, as she tells others, every year when she walks.

Alyce Petrecki with Nia Banks in 2005

I will also think about Alyce Petrecki a lot this weekend. A retired NYSUT staffer, she died this morning from lung cancer. A proud member of the Communications Workers of American, Local 1141, she worked NYSUT’s switchboard for years and, when I started in 1993, she was the secretary for New York Teacher. She was that kind of secretary who always seemed to have the answer to everything, like who to call to fix the copier. We have a tradition in this office of writing songs when people retire. The perfect song was written to Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit,” because of it’s refrain “Go ask Alice, I think she’ll know.”

She also had the best phone manner you could imagine, so we often transferred callers with complicated questions to her. She would listen, however long it took, to figure out how to get an answer or who might have it. These days, when you can rarely reach an actual person on the phone, that’s a lost art.

It’s hard to call Alyce retired, and none of her former colleagues are even sure of her official retirement date. It just seemed she was often here — filling in, stopping by, helping out. Through her 70s, she would still work the switchboard, covering for those who went on vacations. She was even scheduled to work Sept. 13, but called in sick as she had only days earlier gotten the diagnosis of stage 4 lung cancer. (Here’s a link to her obituary in the Albany Times-Union that really captures her style, grace and wit.)

She was 81 and we will miss her.

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4 Comments

  1. Liza Frenette September 28, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Alyce is one of those people who will just live on with us. She was funny, had a great voice, and was never superficial. She is one of those rare people who was true to her emotions and didn’t try to fake it. She made time to REALLY ask “How are you?” and you knew she wanted a real answer. She always made time to send a card when she thought you needed it. Here at NYSUT, I think we kind of deluded ourselves into thinking she’d always be here, since after her retirement she still worked at the front desk to fill in. It was always a treat to walk in and see Alyce at the helm, and you couldn’t help but break out into a smile. She adored her son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren and shared photos and stories about them all the time. Our only consolation is that she will finally get to be with her beloved husband. Our turn is up.

  2. matt smith September 28, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Great lady, and as down to earth as they come. Betsy’s right about the lost art of telephone skills, as is Liza about Alyce not having a superficial bone in her body. I’m going to miss her… (Not a lot of 81-year-old women on this planet, either, that could speak to you about the goings on in the NHL and do so knowledgeably, beyond what was happening with her own NHL-drafted grandson whom she adored.)

  3. Deb Ward September 29, 2012 at 10:10 pm #

    Yes to all of the above… great tributes for a great lady, very dear and as kind as they come. When she called you “hon,” it was like a hug. The communications department enjoyed watching Meredith and Nick grow up, watching them through Alyce’s eyes, and sharing her pride. We will miss her very much.

  4. Lisa May October 4, 2012 at 10:27 am #

    It’s hard to say something about Alyce that people already didn’t know. Her smile, laughter, jokes and love her family just made Alyce a joy to be around. Alyce was like a second mother to me, I could talk to her about anything, as she would do the same with me. I can’t help but cry thinking about how I won’t see her at that front desk anymore. Liza was right, I knew as soon as I walked through those NYSUT front doors, I had the biggest smile on my face when I saw she was in and would have to run around that desk to give her a great big hug. It was always first things first with Alyce, she would have me log on the computer, so she could show me Nick’s most recent fight on the ice… loved that about her. It is no secret how proud she was of her entire family and all their accomplishments. I will miss you Alyce but I know how happy you are reuniting with your one and only true love.

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