Thanks to all of you who offered Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC) your condolences and recollections of our beloved Board Member, Lester Pritchard. We will be sure to share your reflections and sympathies with Lester’s wife, Barb, who is also a CCHCC Board Member and activist.
Lester died on Monday, October 12, and although we sent out an announcement about Lester’s death and the memorial service, we wanted to take time now to share with you Lester’s amazing contributions to CCHCC, and also links to the various media articles about Lester’s life.
Lester’s death hit CCHCC very hard. And not just because Lester was a great activist and dedicated Board Member, but because almost anyone who ever worked with Lester also had the privilege of considering him a friend. Lester was that way — he had an easy way of developing friendships.
We’ve put together a short slideshow of photos of Lester at various CCHCC events throughout the years. To see the slide show, click here.
Lester was a long-time CCHCC Board Member, and an active task force member (Lester’s wife, Barb, is also similarly active). Lester participated for many years on our Medical Billing Task Force, which then grew to become the Medical Debt Coalition. This is the task force/coalition that worked to correct our local non-profit hospitals’ harmful and unethical medical debt collection practices. Lester was one of the community members who served on the committee that has been meeting with the local hospitals for years, to help them revamp their financial assistance programs and medical debt collection practices. The changes that our hospitals made to their financial assistance programs and debt collections practices have helped thousands of Champaign County residents. Lester was instrumental in helping to give recommendations to help low-income consumers.
Lester was also a founding member of CCHCC’s Health Care Access Task Force, which grew out of the work of the Medical Debt Coalition. And he was also a founding member of the CCHCC Disability Rights Task Force.
Lester (along with his wife Barb) put in countless hours with CCHCC’s task forces, strategizing and planning and researching, and conducting outreach to help build our campaigns.
Lester was a brilliant and mischievous strategist. He LOVED direct action organizing — taking the people to directly confront the individuals and institutions causing the harm or the problem to demand justice. Lester and Barb turned out for every single demonstration, march, or picket. They even came out last December to the 5th & Hill Neighborhood Rights Campaign’s march, when the temperature was 15 F.
Nothing could keep Lester away from a demonstration. He was full of joy and mischief at every single demonstration, and he helped others feel good about coming out to the action. His joy was infectious.
Lester also found joy in the absurd. We recall a Thanksgiving protest at Carle Clinic, for the Clinic denying care to low-income people. As part of that protest, some of us had planned to go inside to deliver a Thanksgiving Day card (with a letter pasted to the inside, of course) to the Clinic Administration. Well, as our delegation went to enter the building, the security guards came out and locked the doors, and even locked out patients who were trying to get in. As we always do, we advocated for those individuals to be able to get in, and they were let in, but we were locked out. Lester thought this was hilarious! He thought it was so absurd that such extreme measures were taken to “protect” the Clinic from our little ragtag group that just wanted to peaceably deliver a giant Thanksgiving Day card. Lester’s perspective made us all see how silly it was and we had a great laugh over it. This kind of joyfulness helped us all the time, because the truth is that we work with many tragic situations, where we see people’s lives and health harmed. The joy that Lester brought always helped give new energy and enthusiasm to the struggle.
But Lester wasn’t just fun and games (although he was always fun, even when dealing with very serious issues). A very important contribution that Lester and Barb made to CCHCC is in teaching us about disability rights — teaching us to understand that the struggle for disability rights and full inclusion is a civil rights struggle. Because of Lester and Barb’s influence, we have learned how to integrate disability rights into almost every aspect of our work, and we have also been able to partner with disability rights organizations in various struggles. CCHCC’s commitment to disability rights is profound and unwavering.
Lester and Barb’s commitment to disability rights, and also their belief that direct action community organizing is the best way to advance a struggle, led them to form the Campaign for Real Choice. You can go to the Campaign’s website at:
Lester lived his life brilliantly and to tremendous effect. He was generous in every possible way — generous with his time, his talents, his compassion, his resources, and his joyful and mischievous spirit.
He always brightened the room when he came in, and he always had some smartaleck remark to make to someone. We had wonderful and unforgettable times together, including when several of us went to the Midwest Academy training for community organizing up in Chicago, for a whole week. That training inspired Lester to greater heights and antics, new ways to “kick ass” in the struggles to which he dedicated himself.
There is no way here to sum up Lester’s life and his achievements — Lester’s life was huge. We just wanted to share these reflections of the part of Lester’s life that involved CCHCC. At the bottom of this message, we have posted links to various news articles memorializing Lester. There is no doubt that Lester was a giant, a hero among us.
We miss him more than we can say.
There is some solace in knowing that Lester left this life just as he lived it: with grace, full of boundless love (love he gave, and love he received), courage and determination, humor (he was a smartass til the end), concern for others, and optimism for what lies ahead.
We promised Lester that we will continue the struggle. That is the best way we know to pay tribute to our beloved amazing joyful friend, Lester Pritchard.
In closing, I want to share this Molly Ivins quote, because it so beautifully captures Lester’s spirit of activism (Bill Mueller loved this quote and introduced us to it).
Molly Ivins quote on the joy of social justice organizing:
“So keep fightin’ for freedom and justice, beloveds, but don’t you forget to have fun doin’ it. Lord, let your laughter ring forth. Be outrageous, ridicule the fraidy-cats, rejoice in all the oddities that freedom can produce. And when you get through kickin’ ass and celebratin’ the sheer joy of a good fight, be sure to tell those who come after how much fun it was.”
– Molly Ivins, political commentator and author, from Texas
With deepest sympathy,
Claudia Lennhoff, CCHCC Executive Director and CCHCC Board and Staff
LINKS TO ARTICLES ABOUT LESTER PRITCHARD
Chicago Tribune (links expired)
Galesburg Register-Mail (links expired)
Galesburg radio WGIL (links expired)
WGN-TV (links expired)
CBS Chicago (links expired)
Springfield Journal Register (links expired)
Life My Way blog story (links expired)
Another one on WILL-AM (links expired)
And an online magazine
http://www.sfexaminer.com/nation/ap/64069107.html# (links expired)