Call to Service Friendship, honoree says, serves as tie that binds group together

By Tom Kirvan
Legal News

There was a record turnout October 21 for the Leon Hubbard Community Service Award dinner – and for good reason, of course.

The biennial event, sponsored by Oakland County Bar Association and held at The Townsend Hotel in Birmingham, celebrated the “power of diversity” and the importance of “community service,” messages that were woven throughout the honoree’s acceptance speech that night.

Attorney Mike Lavoie, who has embraced the concept of “service above self” from his early days as a Peace Corps volunteer in the tiny West African country of Burkina Faso, was the heretofore-mentioned award winner, a man whose mentoring work with Pontiac students served as the principal reason for his selection.

The honor accorded Lavoie, a graduate of the University of Notre Dame who earned his law degree from the University of Detroit in 1980, was established by the OCBA in 1994 as a posthumous tribute to Leon Hubbard, a prominent attorney and civic leader in Pontiac who was revered as a pioneer for “human rights and dignity.” A graduate of the University of Michigan Law School, Hubbard was the founding father of the Pontiac Area Urban League, and was known as a “champion for the underdog and the underprivileged.”

Hubbard’s record of exemplary public service has been continued in Pontiac by Lavoie and others. Lavoie, as is his custom, made special mention of “others” throughout his acceptance speech last week, asking those in attendance to look “at everything that all of you and the great prior winners of this award have achieved and continued to achieve.”

Said Lavoie: “Those actions are neither isolated nor unconnected, but part of a greater story of the friendship of mankind.”

That “story” – and its many strands – served as the basis of Lavoie’s speech, which came just one week after the 50th anniversary of the founding of the Peace Corps, an organization that remains dear to his heart.

“I believe that the great mission of community service and diversity does not simply require that we get along and tolerate one another,” Lavoie said. “Rather, we should thrive together in friendship to advance liberty, peace, equality, and hope for all humanity.”

He paid special mention to “just some of those whose works prove that such friendship is indeed the soul of community service and diversity,” such as his wife, Carol, for example.

She was credited by Lavoie for introducing him to the concept of “mentoring” and that “kindled the formation of the Gettysburg Group, aimed at reversing the direction we were going much as the Battle of Gettysburg did.” The so-called “Gettysburg Group” is a mix of Pontiac High School students who are committed to educational enrichment and to the value of community service.
Four members of the group – Robert Harper, Joe Brice, Miguel Rosario, and Dwight Carpenter – were on hand for the awards ceremony October 21 at The Townsend. They, too, were singled out for special praise by Lavoie.

“Look at what you did: look at all the meetings with you and the others, every week from eighth grade through high school, all the field trips, all the lunches, and all the community service you did, building the Grace Centers of Hope shelter . . . and all the food basket packing every other week at St. Stephen’s (Church),” said Lavoie. “And look at all you did to help each other get through high school and to continue beyond. When we did all that, did we just tolerate each other? Did we just get along? No. It was much more than that. All the world does not have friendship, but we have it!”

Likewise, Lavoie made note of the work of “The Cranbrook/Namtenga Team,” a group led by Marcy DeCraene, Peter Charney, Margaret Charney, and Lynn Bennett Carpenter. Over the past 10 years, the four faculty members from Cranbrook have spearheaded school efforts to assist villagers in Namtenga, the remote city in Burkina Faso that Lavoie called home during his Peace Corps mission more than three decades ago. Lavoie plans to return to Namtenga in February, further cementing friendships that he made from 1975-77 as a recent college graduate.

While there, he will get a first-hand look at the devastation caused by summer flooding in the region. He will take pride, however, in the fact that friends from the local “Fight True” group recently contributed more than $2,300 to help his host family with their rebuilding efforts. The FT group, “those who fight for what is true and remain true to the fight,” includes many legal luminaries as members. U.S. District Court Judge David Lawson is one, and he along with attorney Joe Papelian, another longtime FT member, each wrote a letter nominating Lavoie for the Hubbard Award. They both have consistently demonstrated their support for his mentoring work, which is a byproduct of the overall Pontiac Alumni Foundation (PAF) program headed by retired Circuit Court Judge Fred Mester.

The Oakland County jurist was lauded by Lavoie as a “tireless leader and visionary.” PAF Vice President Ayanna Hatchett and Treasurer Steve Fladger also were cited for their community work, as was Paul Omekanda, a former Penn State soccer star who helped launch a soccer program for school children in Pontiac.

Lavoie, an attorney with Butzel Long, did his level best to shine the spotlight on everyone else last week. Barbara McQuade, who earlier this year became the first woman to hold the position of U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Michigan, was among the recipients of his praise. McQuade served as the keynote speaker at the event, preceding Lavoie to the podium. She praised his “lifelong commitment” to public service and his devotion to the ideals of “diversity.” She then said, “We all have a responsibility to create the vision of a more diverse legal profession and make it a reality.”

Seeing is believing, she said, even in the context of a riddle.

“As a child in about third grade, I remember a riddle,” McQuade told the audience last week. “You’ve probably heard it before. And I have told this riddle to my own children.”
It goes something like this:

A boy is seriously injured in an accident. The boy is transported to the hospital for emergency surgery. The doctor walks into the operating room, and says, “I can’t operate on this boy. He is my son.” The doctor is not the boy’s father. How can this be?

“In 1973, this riddle was unsolvable,” McQuade said. “No one could get it, not me, not any of my classmates. I am happy to report that my children immediately solved the riddle, and could not understand how this is even a riddle at all.

“Of course, what was unthinkable to us in 1973, 37 years ago, is now immediately apparent – the doctor is the boy’s mother,” McQuade said with a smile. “We had never seen that before, so we could not imagine it. Because many women are successful doctors today, it is very easy to think of women in that role. Our family pediatrician is an African-American female. My children have no problem thinking of women of all races in the role of doctor, and they find the riddle insulting to their intelligence. Seeing is believing.”

Such was the case for Sandra Day O’Connor, the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There was a time, of course, when legal jobs were not open to women,” McQuade said. “There are the legendary stories of Sandra Day O’Connor graduating at the top of their class at Stanford Law School, and finding that the only legal job she could get was as a legal secretary.”

Seeing, indeed, is believing, honoree Lavoie echoed in his remarks.

“So we all see that the soul of diversity and community service is not tolerance or getting along. It is friendship.”

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