Editorial: Life Lessons From Hartford

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Public figures who manage things badly keep scribblers like us in business. Without them, the editorial page would be a much impoverished reading destination. But today we turn our attention to a public official who is handling a difficult personal and professional situation with uncommon wisdom and grace: Hartford Town Manager Leo Pullar, who is undergoing treatment for a recurrence of cancer and will be out of work for four to six weeks.

Pullar, a retired Army officer who has gotten rave reviews for his budgetary and economic development performance during his recently completed first year on the job in Hartford, gave an interview to Valley News staff writer Matt Hongoltz-Hetling before going on sick leave. Here are some lessons we drew from it that just about everybody in his situation could profit from.

Above all, transparency (formerly known as candor): In granting the interview, Pullar explained why he wanted the community to know what was going on. “They’re going to know I’m gone,” he said. “Instead of having the rumors run rampant, it’s better to say what it is.” Indeed it is, because rumors can be damaging and because things are less scary when they have a name — in this case, multiple myeloma, a blood cancer for which Pullar, 52, will receive his third bone marrow transplant since 2009.

Maintain a sense of humor: “Other than cancer, I’m pretty healthy,” Pullar joked. Humor is a balm for many of life’s ills, and has a healing power of its own. It also helps to . . .

Keep things in perspective: That’s easier said than done when a serious illness strikes or life presents other kinds of difficult challenges. But Pullar seems to have done so, in a matter-of-fact way: “Everyone’s got something going on in their life,” he told Hongoltz-Hetling. “This is just what mine is.”

Find and embrace the silver lining: Pullar spoke powerfully of the transformation he underwent when the cancer was originally discovered in 2009. At that time he was what he describes as “a hard-charging lieutenant colonel ... I used to be kind of a jerk, a Type A personality, driven.” Cancer, and the treatments he underwent that sent it into remission, profoundly altered his outlook on life. “It kind of makes you take a step back and think about what’s important,” he said. “And it’s obvious. Family is important. Community is important.” It also fosters traits that appear from a distance to have marked his tenure in Hartford so far, including an inclusive and even-keeled leadership style.

Don’t ask why; ask why not?: It is a normal reaction when bad things happen to ask, “Why me?” Normal, and unproductive. Multiple myeloma typically afflicts people later in life than was the case with Pullar, who was diagnosed at 43. It is linked to petroleum and pesticides, substances to which he was exposed while growing up on the family farm in Washington state. But such speculation is fruitless, he says: “You can frustrate yourself, trying to figure out what causes it.” He’s concentrating instead on the future. “Now I plan to have a full life and die of old age,” he said. “Not of cancer.” We like his chances.