A Night With Washington’s Powerful Supporting Mental Health


Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Maryland) and Singer Judy Collins 

I attended the annual Remarkable Journeys gala last night, an annual fundraising event which benefits Green Door, a non-profit, community based mental health agency in our nation’s Capital.  Each year, Green Door provides care to more than 1,800 adults with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, severe depression and other mental illnesses. One of the reasons why I admire Green Door is because it not only offers psychiatric help, but also hope, through housing and supported employment programs, both of which I believe are essential to recovery.

I often am asked to speak at fund raisers and many of them are for fabulous agencies just like  Green Door. But the Remarkable Journeys gala is different. Why? Because this event brings together some of Washington’s powerful elite – each of whom seem to check their egos, their politics and their status at the door, and enter prepared to support the Green Door mission.  My friend Michele Oshman, a Green Door board member, invited me to my first Green Door gala a few years ago, and at that time she told me what a special event it was.  She convinced me to become a donor and we’ve been attending the event together ever since.

I’ve lived too long in the D.C. area to be star struck. That’s not why I am impressed by the many D.C. ‘movers and shakers’ I see at the Green Door gala each year. This gala reminds me that mental illnesses don’t discriminate. No one is immune, not even powerful attorneys, wealthy business leaders, members of Congress,  or journalists. I’ve also been around politicians enough to know that when they attend events like this, they stop in to make a quick speech, shake a few hands and head out the door.

That didn’t happen last night. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wy) – who received an award for his legislative work on parity– came early and was one of the last people to leave.  During his humble acceptance speech, he talked about the many capable and yet overlooked individuals struggling with mental illnesses who could contribute to this nation’s workforce, if only they had a Green Door to help them.

Congressman Steny Hoyer (D-Md), who attends every year, came early and left after pretty much everyone else had called it a night.  He  asked me about my book and family, and if I’d spoken to his friend, Creigh Deeds, the Virginia State Senator who was attacked by his son who later killed himself.

Rep. Hoyer introduced the second award winner being honored by the group, Linda Hall Daschle, the first woman to serve as an acting FAA Administrator and the wife of former Senator Tom Daschle (D-S.D.)  A longtime supporter of Green Door, Linda Daschle’s enthusiasm (and persistence) is what drew my friend Michele to join the Green Door Board. (I also learned last night that Mrs. Daschle is the daughter of an Oklahoma minister. I am the son of one.)

Jon and Sarah Talcott, the gala’s official hosts, did more than simply help plan and fund the event.  A partner in the national firm of Nelson Mullins, Talcott spoke eloquently and emotionally about his sister, who lived with schizophrenia, had access to treatment, and was able to recover and become a peer counselor, helping others in need. (Much like my son!)   He also described his father’s suicide and how he felt as a son that he should have been able to save his father. (Something I’ve struggled with recently as mentioned in this blog.) Talcott openly discussed his mother’s battles with alcoholism, and recounted how she had asked the famed singer and songwriter Judy Collins to be her sponsor in Alcoholics Anonymous. It didn’t matter if Collins was on tour, if Talcott’s mother called, the singer answered — for more than 30 years!

It was for that kind of service to others that Collins was given the third gala award of the evening  — for family service.  Collins began her poignant acceptance speech with an a capella rendition of the Joni Mitchell song, Both Sides, Nowand ended by leading attendees in singing Amazing Gracewhich, she pointed out, was written by John Newtown, a former slave trader who found redemption when a storm ravaged a ship that he was on.  In between those two stirring pieces (each of which earned her a spontaneous ovation), Collins discussed her own suicide attempt at age 14, her bouts of depression, and her recovery from alcoholism. She spoke about her only child, Clark C. Taylor, who took his own life in 1992 at age 33 and the pain that he had suffered throughout his own depression and alcoholism.  A self-described “old hippie,” Collins was among the first celebrities to speak openly about suicide in her 1992 book, Sanity & Grace: A Journey of Suicide, Survival and Strength. 

It takes courage for nationally known figures such as Judy Collins, Glenn Close, Terry Bradshaw, Patty Duke and Patrick Kennedy to talk openly about suicide, mental illness and alcohol and drug addictions. We desperately need their voices. Last night I was reminded of how  fortunate we are to have influential advocates supporting them, such as Senator Enzi, Representative Hoyer, Jon & Sarah Talcott and Linda Daschle.

All of them are power brokers and we need their help and voices in reforming our system.

I will let you know about next year’s Green Door gala in advance. Don’t worry, if I forget — Michele will remind me.


About the author:

Pete Earley is the bestselling author of such books as The Hot House and Crazy. When he is not spending time with his family, he tours the globe advocating for mental health reform.

Learn more about Pete.