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Joe M.
Democrat WV

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  • Tribute to John ``Jack’’ Edward Bresch

    by Senator Joe Manchin, III

    Posted on 2013-01-23

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    MANCHIN. Mr. President, I rise today to honor the life, legacy and service of a dear friend--John Edward Bresch. Jack lead a life filled with compassion. He worked tirelessly for everyone to have access to affordable, quality health care, especially needy children and families. His heart was as big as heaven.

    But Jack's life was also a life of great humor. Anybody who knew him also knew his warm and infectious laugh. It was a sure sign that Jack was somewhere nearby because you could almost hear his laughter before you saw his face. And everybody was glad to see Jack coming their way. He truly never met a stranger.

    Sadly, we won't be able to hear that distinct laughter again. Jack passed away on September 1, 2012, surrounded by his family after a brief and courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. From the moment of his fateful diagnosis until the day he left us, we saw in him grace and courage, dignity and humility, joy and, yes, laughter--and so much love and gratitude lived out on a daily basis that, even in our sorrow, his memory will never be lost.

    Tomorrow, Jack will be laid to rest in our Nation's most hallowed ground--Arlington National Cemetery--with full military honors as a decorated Naval Lieutenant who served as a Chaplain during the Vietnam war.

    In his life, Jack Bresch was many things but above all, a family man, devoted to his wife, JoAnn; his children, Mary Elizabeth, James Richard, and [[Page S203]] Jeffrey John; and 10 grandchildren on whom he doted. He also leaves behind countless friends and colleagues whose lives are enriched with memories of this gregarious, energetic, larger-than-life man. But when a loved one is gone, it is often the little things you remember most. Some of us will remember how much Jack loved neckties. Some of us will remember sharing Jack's favorite drink--a Manhattan, made with Maker's Mark, up, no bitters, with a twist of orange. Some of us will remember how often Jack quoted the 19th century German politician Otto von Bismark--``Politics is the art of the possible.'' And some of us will remember how proud Jack was to be at the White House when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act for which he worked so tirelessly. A friend saw Jack on TV and sent him a text to let him know, and Jack texted back, ``Just a pleasure to be here.'' It was a pleasure for Jack to be anywhere. Simply put, Jack enjoyed being with people, and people enjoyed being with Jack. He was a great person to talk to--probably because he began his adult life as a Roman Catholic priest. Jack was a priest in the Diocese of Pittsburgh, his native city, from 1966 to 1974. In 1968, at the height of the Vietnam war, he entered the U.S. Navy and served as a Navy and Marine Corps Chaplain in posts around the world. During his time in the service, he supervised drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and worked as a liaison with the American Red Cross. After the war, Jack left the priesthood. But in some ways, he never stopped being a chaplain, in the sense that he never wavered from his steadfast belief in social justice. He carried that belief forward in career that made the world a better place--working for Congress, the Federal Government, the Illinois Hospital Association, the Catholic Health Association, and the American Dental Education Association. Many members of Congress got to know Jack through his work as the lead lobbyist for the Catholic Health Association. They also learned quickly just how hard it was to say ``no'' to Jack.

    While at the Catholic Health Association, Jack worked closely with then First Lady Hillary Clinton and the White House to develop a plan for reforming the Nation's health care system. While at the American Dental Education Association, he was instrumental in improving access to dental care for needy children. For more than a decade, he worked diligently to ensure that policymakers understood the value of oral health to overall health--the reason why he was invited to the White House for the signing of the Affordable Care Act. Jack lived long enough to see the Supreme Court uphold key portions of the Affordable Care Act. He knew the law wasn't perfect, but he was happy to see it move forward. Remember, he believed that ``politics is the art of the possible.'' To JoAnn and Jack's entire family, my wife Gayle and I extend our deepest sympathy because we are part of that family. Jack and I shared four of his 10 grandchildren, but he lent all the rest of them to me, too. It is hard to think of this world without Jack being a part of it, making us laugh--and hearing him laugh--and making us care--the way he cared.

    There is a wonderful anonymous quote which may well describe how we should think of Jack's passing, especially since he served so courageously in the Navy. It offers great comfort to those who grieve. And it goes something like this: I am standing upon the seashore. A ship at my side spreads her white sails to the morning breeze and starts for the blue ocean. She is an object of beauty and strength, and I stand and watch her until, at length, she hangs like a speck of white cloud just where the sea and sky come down to mingle with each other. Then someone at my side says, ``There! She's gone.'' Gone where? Gone from my sight--that is all. She is just as large in mast and hull and spar as she was when she left my side, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to the place of destination. Her diminished size is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says, ``There, she's gone,''--there are other eyes watching her coming, and other voices ready to take up the glad shout, ``There she comes!'' Jack Bresch was a man whose optimism could overwhelm any doubter and whose joy for life was wonderfully contagious and completely irresistible. The ancient poets tell us that ``one must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been.'' Our day with Jack Bresch was splendid indeed.

    As we prepare to honor Jack with the military honors due a decorated Navy Chaplain, I would like to end my tribute to Jack's life with a traditional nautical blessing and wish my dear friend ``fair winds and following seas.'' The PRESIDING OFFICER. The senior Senator from Tennessee is recognized.


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