Haverhill Republicans who have worked with and befriended former Gov. Paul Cellucci reacted this week to the announcement that the 69th governor of Massachusetts has a slowly progressing strand of Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease.
ALS is a fatal, neurodegenerative disease caused by the deterioration of the nerve cells that control voluntary muscular movement. There is no cure for the disease and it is largely untreatable, according to the Massachusetts chapter of the ALS Association.
Jack Roy, the president of Haverhill's Republican City Committee, worked with Cellucci during his time in office.
"He's so genuine, and he knew how to bring people together to get things done," Roy said. "All you can say is that our prayers are with him and his family during this difficult time."
Cellucci was governor from 1999 to 2001, before serving as the U.S. ambassador to Canada until 2005. He was appointed to that post by the first President Bush.
Most recently, Cellucci has been serving as special counsel to New Jersey-based McCarter & English, one of the oldest law firms in the country.
Former 5th District Republican congressional candidate Jon Golnik said Cellucci was one of the first members on his advisory committee, and helped bring former New York City Mayor Rudy Guiliani to the 5th District just four days before the Nov. 2 election.
"Paul was with us from early on. I was meeting with him in the fall of 2009, before Scott Brown's special election," Golnik said. "He's always been very, very accessible, and his advice was always very good. He was very good to us."
Cellucci, who served as lieutenant governor to Gov. William Weld from 1991 to 1999, met with Golnik just three weeks ago to discuss politics over coffee, but didn't disclose his condition.
"It makes me even more touched that he helped us," Golnik said. "We spent a fair amount of time with him, and he was always very high energy. We were very surprised when we heard."
Haverhill Rep. Jim Lyons, an Andover Republican, said the announcement should give perspective on day-to-day priorities.
"I felt very sad," he said about the moment he heard the news. "All you can say is that our prayers and best wishes are with him. You never know from day to day ... your health is very important."
Dorothy Early, a Haverhill political matriarch and the Republican state committeewoman for the First Essex District, worked as Cellucci's campaign coordinator for the Essex District in 1999.
"I'm devastated because he was a great governor for Haverhill. The money, the education, the hospital," she said. "It was a great presence that he had in Haverhill. He had a lot of friends and supporters in Haverhill."
Early said she hopes that the energy and faith she witnessed during his time in office will help him through the challenging period ahead.
"I just hope he's got that tenacious strength to get him through this," she said.
"I was just so saddened. He has the strength of his family and friends, and we all pray for him."
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease, for the baseball player who put a public face on the illness.
The disease causes patients to lose the ability to speak, move, swallow and breathe.
An estimated 30,000 Americans are living with ALS.
Patients typically die within two to five years of diagnosis.
Every 90 minutes someone is diagnosed with ALS.
Every 90 minutes someone dies from ALS.
Source: ALS Association, Massachusetts chapter; learn more at alsa.org