(Editor’s note: BEST Executive Director, Gloria Kraegel, shares her reflections, remembrances and appreciation about one of our local superheroes, the late Tommy Manning. KT).
Everyone in the Washington State brain injury community knows the name.
You may have even met him at a support group meeting, seen him at one of the annual conferences or heard him speak to the legislature about the needs of those with traumatic brain injuries.
His death last week caused me to stop and reflect on the ten years we knew one another. I read a number of memorial pieces, social media posts, and spoken with people this past week about Tommy. Each reflection that was shared triggered memories for me; often making me smile, often taking me for a stroll down memory lane.
The ball began rolling with Constance Miller, who shared the need for greater awareness and support for those with traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in Washington State. She shared her experiences, facts, and genuine passion for those with TBI with a legislator at the time; Dennis Flannigan. Tommy Manning then began regularly calling and showing up at Dennis’ office. He wanted better services and assistance.
Those of us who knew Tommy were all too familiar with how obnoxious and demanding he could be. But, as Dennis put it, “…we learned that if you could listen to him occasionally be obnoxious you could find that underneath everything he was asking for someone to help people like [him].”
In 2007, House Bill 2055 was introduced and was approved as RCW 74.31; The Tommy Manning Act.
What makes this law so important? After all, Washington State had TBI services in place before this (services for children, that is). The advocacy Tommy was a part of forced us all to look at adults with TBI. The statute recognizes that current programs and services were not funded or designed to address the diverse needs of individuals with traumatic brain injuries. Tommy continued to advocate for survivors during his eight years on the Washington State TBI Strategic Partnership Advisory Council.
Tommy contributed to our community by not only raising awareness of the challenges and needs of those with a brain injury, but speaking out on a variety of issues that affect everyone with or without disabilities; community supports, transportation, professional caregiving services, and more. Through his humor, his tenacity, and his desire for something better for himself and those with brain injury, Tommy helped change the things for adults with TBI in Washington State.
Tommy and I had our disagreements. We laughed together and cried together. We had our friendship and that will always mean a lot. He and I last saw one another this past May. He held my hand and with tears streaming down his face said that he was thankful for all we had done for him. He pulled me in for a hug and said “I love you and tell Penny that for me too.”