In the early hours of May 14 my friend, Brad Schwartz, of the Banner Day Camp family, died peacefully after a long battle with cancer. He left behind two children, his wife and extended family, as well as a sad and somewhat stunned extended camp family.
I had known Brad since the early 1990’s when I started to work with Banner. As his friends and colleagues can attest, Brad could be determined when it came to his ideas about camp, business and family politics. And yet it always seemed to me that Brad was on a search. In his heart of hearts, Brad was a generous and giving man. Anyone who had the chance to see him with his beloved dogs knew that, whether it was always apparent or not, Brad was basically a nurturing and giving soul—a caring master and a master caretaker.
All of this—his love of and belief in the essential goodness of camp; his determination; his searching; his generosity—came to the foreground when he, along with Dayna Hardin and a few other visionary folks, decided to bring S.C.O.P.E. to the Midwest. For those if you who may not be familiar with it, S.C.O.P.E. is a camp scholarship program pioneered in New York by Jay Jacobs. When Brad approached Jay about the idea of bringing S.C.O.P.E. to Chicago and the Midwest, Jay enthusiastically embraced it by making a personal donation to get it started.
All in all Brad’s work on S.C.O.P.E. may have been his finest achievement. Recently, at the now annual benefit dinner in Chicago that Brad helped establish, he was given a Lifetime Achievement Award for that work. I, along with Jay Jacobs, made a point of being there to give him that award. It was a moving moment. Brad had been extremely ill and in the hospital all week, in and out of deliriums. It seemed doubtful, even as late as one hour before the event, that Brad would be able to be present. When I saw his parents, Allen and Helen Schwartz, and his sister Stacy, they all feared for his safety in coming to the event. The doctors had strongly advised against it.
Then, like a minor miracle, there was Brad at the eleventh hour, smiling as he was wheeled through the ballroom. When the time came to accept his award, he rose out of his wheelchair, walked to the podium on his own, climbed the stairs with a little help and gave a five minute talk about the impact camp can have on the lives of young people. Though halting in his delivery, Brad was clear and his comments poignant. I doubt there was a dry eye in the house. His family, who had watched over Brad all week, could hardly believe what they saw. Such was Brad’s determination! Such is the strength of the human spirit!
It was a gift to have witnessed this miracle. And yet, I can’t say that I was totally surprised. Camp has a way of bringing out the best in people. It certainly brought out the best out in Brad and it was on full display that Friday evening, April 29. Two weeks later Brad was gone.
As I think about it I realize that camp doesn’t just give to children, it gives to the people who make it their life’s work to make camp possible. Sometimes we need a forum—an arena—for our best selves to show up. This has certainly been true for me, and I suspect it is true for many of the wonderful people I have had the privilege to know in my work with the greater camp community. Brad was one of those people.