Neil Curtis
Nominated by Jenna Curtis Coote

When my father, Neil, was diagnosed with Grade 4 Glioblastoma in August 2015, I was on a pontoon boat in Nashville, Tennessee at a bachelorette party. He had held off from calling me for as long as he could, and told me casually, “Don’t worry about it, they just found some spots on my brain.” He really didn’t want to ruin my trip.

We fretted through his brain surgery but laughed our way through the recovery room thanks to my father’s antics. The doctors warned us that the medication might lower his inhibitions. “But they’re already so low!” he exclaimed. And they are. He can’t help himself. He just really loves people. When I was younger, I would get annoyed because we couldn’t even sit in a restaurant without listening to him talk to the people at the next table, chatting happily about whether their food was good and where they came from. He knew every neighbor within a five block radius of our house in Long Island and when my parents got divorced and he moved into an apartment complex in Queens, he was the most popular person at the apartment’s pool complex. A retired New York City teacher and educational evaluator, he spent his days in school, surrounded by teachers and students alike. “Mr. Curtis, Mr. Curtis!” the kids would shout excitedly, trying to get his attention as he walked through the halls. Naturally, he had many visitors at the hospital, but my Dad was trying to keep everyone quiet. His roommate, Rick, had just had brain surgery too and wasn’t feeling well. When Dad overheard two nurses outside of his room discussing how to break bad news to another patient but make it sound like there was still cause for hope, my Dad was the one who warned them to keep it down because If he could hear, other patients probably could too, and he didn’t want anyone to get upset. Even dosed up on steroids and painkillers with a drain attached to his head, his selflessness continued to shine through.

After receiving a particularly bad scan that showed that the tumor had returned in his right frontal lobe and had spread to his corpus callosum, making it inoperable, he paused on the sidewalk outside of Weill Cornell to ask a man in a wheelchair if he needed help getting up the steep sidewalk. “That’d be great,” the man exclaimed and let my Dad push him to the top of the street. “God bless you,” the man said as we retreated. “Thanks, I could use some blessings,” my Dad replied without going into detail.

As we sat in the waiting room, readying ourselves for another doctor’s appointment, in a rare serious moment, he turned to me and said, “If you knew you were dying, would you want to say goodbye to all of your friends?” In another moment, we lay in bed next to each other bracing ourselves for another tough day, and he said, “I just wish this wasn’t affecting you and your brother so much. I hate to make people upset.” Even in the hardest of moments, my father wasn’t thinking about himself or his illness, but rather about other people.

A few weeks ago, we stopped for lunch as we waited for the hospital to make copies of his MRI scans. “What is that salad you’re eating?” he asked the table next to us. “It looks delicious.” For the first time, I didn’t get annoyed. I appreciate my father for so many things; for his fighting spirit and optimism, his encyclopedic knowledge of every Mets player on the roster, his admiration for plays, books, and art, his occasional inappropriate jokes, and now, for his love of the human race. What a great gift to be raised by a man who truly values AND cares for people; both strangers and friends alike, a man who spent his life trying to help kids who were struggling in the school system because of their disabilities. I can only hope that a trace of his compassion, his kindness, and let’s face it, his popularity, have rubbed off on me