Many of you remember a couple of years ago when I wrote a series of columns about a family. I may not have been sufficiently talented to paint the word picture of tragedy and a young family thrown into temporary distress adequately, but many of you responded magnificently as Hall Countians, indeed, North Georgians, are wont to do.
For those of you who are new to the community or may not have remembered, a quick review: Mark Saliba was a multitalented, self-employed family man in his prime, active in the community, a youth leader adored by the youth he led. Shortly after returning from a July family vacation, he was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a malady that paralyzes the body’s muscles. Sometimes it takes several years. Mark never was one to just dawdle around.
First, his ability to walk was taken. First it was a cane, then a wheelchair. Every Sunday though, he was in church and in the youth building leading his beloved young people.
Being a self-employed carpenter, he no longer could work. While health insurance covered a substantial part of his ballooning medical bills except rapidly increasing co-pays, his income was cut off, leaving his wife Pam’s check as a teaching paraprofessional at Riverbend Elementary as the family’s insufficient financial support as savings evaporated. Never mind the usual household and business fixed payments and financing balances that had to be made, family assets were too much to qualify for public assistance, and he had to be disabled for six months before qualifying for Social Security disability. That would be early spring.
This column first wrote about him as he started losing use of his arms. Visiting him regularly, I watched as family or church member volunteers began giving him sips of water. By early December, he needed breathing assistance and his ability to swallow began to drain away. I never saw him in any state but positive.
I last visited him New Year’s while my wife prepared our traditional lunch. His family from Florida and Mississippi had been called in. As I leaned my ear to his lips, he tried to whisper, but his vocal cords were gone. He communicated by eye and nods.
Pam’s call came the next morning. The church overflowed for the funeral. His beloved young people were pall-bearers.
Meanwhile, many of you responded magnificently even though you’d never met him except through this column. Retired county agent Gene Anderson and I were co-trustees of a special fund that helped them through the crisis. When his life was mercifully over, less than six months after first diagnosis, his family had been taught by example how to live and how to die. Pam settled the estate in due time, wanted no more assistance and the family went about with life in ways that no doubt would have given him considerable pride.
The oldest child, Mary Kathryn, is a shining example, active in school and church. She’s a junior at North Hall, has been a varsity cheerleader for three years and is active in school clubs such as HOSA and Spanish Club. Active in Lakewood Baptist Church, she is in the High School Praise Band, has been on mission trips to help Hurricane Katrina victims in New Orleans and Chicago’s inner city neighborhoods. She volunteers in the children’s ministry during Vacation Bible Schools and summer camps.
After graduation, she plans to attend a yet undecided four-year college and then major in dentistry at the Medical College of Georgia on the way to becoming an orthodontist. Her flashing smile tells you she either had a good one or didn’t need one. She wants to serve as taught by her late father, and her younger brother is reaching the age and already beginning to do likewise.
As an aside, this Kiwanian whose club also usually supports a Belle of the Ball candidate doesn’t believe it inappropriate to note that she is the candidate the Gainesville Jaycees selected to be their candidate. The Junior Service League uses funds raised in the annual Charity Ball to support a number of local charities, most aimed at Youth such as YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs, Challenged Child, Gateway House, etc. Various civic clubs sponsor the Belle candidates.
If you’d like to use this holiday season to help others, you might like some of your tax deductible contribution to be votes for her effort to continue her father’s passion: Helping young people. If so, just send the check to The Junior Service League, P.O. Box 1472, Gainesville, GA 30503. Note on it "Votes for Mary Kathryn Saliba."
Just thought you might be interested in what’s happened to this family on this second anniversary season of their — and our — loss what the family is doing. Thanks for reading … and taking action when action was needed.
Ted Oglesby is retired opinion page editor. Reach him at P.O. Box 663, Gainesville, GA 30503. His column appears biweekly and on gainesvilletimes.com.