New Haven Independent

12/14/2010

At a “lovefest” for outgoing U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, one constituent got a chance to express her gratitude for legislation that had made a difference in the life—and death—of her daughter.

That constituent was Eva Bunnell of East Haddam, whose family struggle to care for her severely disabled daughter Jacinta helped inspire Dodd to draft his landmark Family and Medical Leave Act. The 1993 law mandates employment leave for people with significant health conditions and for people who have to care for a new baby or a seriously ill relative.

The law is one of many of Dodd’s legislative accomplishments that were celebrated on Monday morning at the Audubon Street offices of the Community Foundation For Greater New Haven. It was a farewell salute to the senator, whose 30-year career will come to an end when he steps down in January. He will be replaced by Connecticut Attorney General Dick Blumenthal.

Representatives of women, children, and family advocacy groups gathered for the event, which drew about 70 people.

Theresa Younger, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, played emcee. She called up four women to speak, including a union leader and the head of an anti domestic violence organization. Bunnell was the last to speak before Dodd.

“I believe in our history there is no one who will have left office with the legislative legacy you will,” she began.

Bunnell’s daughter Jacinta was born with a rare condition called lissencephaly, in which an baby’s brain does not form properly. Bunnell and her then husband struggled to care for their daughter when she was born. Her husband was forced to take time off from his job as a machinist, only to lose that job. “A difficult situation became a nightmare,” Bunnell said.

That was nearly 30 years ago. Last year, as a result of the successful passage of the Family and Medical Leave Act in 1993, many of Jacinta’s relatives were able to take time off work to spend her last week of life with her at her bedside. Jacinta defied all expectations to live to the age of 27.

Bunnell’s story moved some to tears at Monday’s event. She thanked Dodd for his work and said, “I love you,” before embracing him.

Dodd in turn thanked all those present for their support. He highlighted some of his accomplishments for women and children during his 30 years in the Senate.

“I thank you all deeply,” he concluded.

Original Article