I haven’t gotten much into politics as a blogger unless it directly affects scientific research or research funding.
But I wanted to offer my best wishes and gratitude to an impressive young politician, Rep. Tom Perriello, who lost his bid for re-election last night in the 5th congressional district of Virginia. George Packer has a nice retrospective on that election from last night on the Interesting Times blog at The New Yorker.
I had the pleasure of meeting Tom and hearing him speak earlier this year at the dedication of the gravestone for Henrietta Lacks, the woman whose cervical cancer tumor gave rise to the first immortalized human cancer cell line in 1951 as well as my Ph.D. dissertation and this year’s runaway best-selling book by Rebecca Skloot. My detailed recollections with photos can be found reposted here. We had converged at a Baptist church on a Saturday morning in the Lacks hometown, Clover, Virginia, at the southern end of the massive 5th district, barely an hour-and-half drive from the Research Triangle area of North Carolina.
This is what I wrote then:
. . .[T]he next speaker [was] a remarkable young man, freshman congressman Rep. Tom Perriello (I can say that because he’s about a decade my junior). An undergrad and law graduate of Yale University, this native of Virginia’s 5th district reflected on his work in West Africa where polio continues to afflict millions despite the millions saved in Western nations thanks to the role HeLa cells played early in vaccine development. Perriello excerpted a resolution he read into the Congressional Record last Friday honoring Henrietta Lacks (“Honoring Henrietta Pleasant-Lacks” full text and PDF).
As a side note, I drove past many advertisements for his Republican opponent, Robert Hurt, that read, “HURT U.S. Congress.”
My immediate thoughts were, no thank you – you’ve hurt it enough already.
Perriello is an energetic politician who causes Republicans to froth because of his dedication to the military, international relations, workforce development, and establishment of faith-based aid groups while also putting forth such heresy and tyranny as affordable health care and asking his campaign workers to also “tithe” hours on community service projects unrelated to the election. His district runs from the North Carolina border to north of Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, where his support is quite strong. I took it as a compliment that Rep. Perriello stopped me afterward to say I’d make a good politician – if it meant being like him, I would.
I got the sense that this was not just a public appearance for Perriello. He seemed genuinely moved by the day’s celebration and the significance of marking the memory of a women and recognizing the injustices done to her family.
Perriello fought a hard battle and experienced some opposition activism when the propane tank line at his brother’s house was cut after a Lynchburg Tea Party blogger posted what they thought was Tom’s address and encouraged readers to “stop by.”
Sad to learn that @tomperriello is losing in VA-05. One of the smartest, most decent men I’ve ever called a friend. We need more like him.
@katherineabell But he’s deeply committed to making a difference, so he won’t disappear. I’m curious as to what he’ll do next.
Good luck, Tom, and thank you for your hard work, especially your role in commemorating Ms. Henrietta Lacks in the Congressional Record.