Sachs Media Group Partner, Michelle Ubben paid tribute to the late Gov. Lawton and First Lady Rhea Chiles at the Healthy Start Coalition of the Big Bend 25th Anniversary Celebration.
We all hope to leave behind a positive legacy. For some of us, our children are what come to mind when we think about our life’s legacy.
For the late Gov. Lawton and Rhea Chiles, the legacy is just a little bigger – big enough, in fact, to touch all the children of Florida. I had the opportunity to reflect on their legacy recently when I spoke at the 25th anniversary of the Capital Area Healthy Start Coalition.
The philosopher William James said that “the great use of life is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”
By that definition, the powerhouse couple that was Lawton and Rhea Chiles put their lives to great use indeed. That’s because their successors are many and their enduring legacy is written in the life stories of thousands of children who would not be alive today if not for their vision and commitment.
It was my great privilege to work with Governor and Mrs. Chiles when I served as the communication director of the Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services and later the Department of Children and Families.
I got to see the major impact the Healthy Start Coalition made from its inception in the lives of children. I vividly recall helping to organize a birthday party and media event for children who had survived and thrived because of the intervention that Healthy Start provided them. It continues to benefit our youth today.
Working for the governor’s agency that had the most to do with children’s well-being is where I got to see firsthand commitment to children embodied by everyone associated with Healthy Start.
I saw their genuine passion for improving the lives of our youngest and most vulnerable citizens, their determination to use Healthy Start to drive down Florida’s shameful infant mortality rate, and their willingness to make our children a priority.
Lawton and Rhea Chiles were a true team when it came to promoting the children’s agenda, and the legacy they leave behind is a shared one – a fact that Gov. Chiles would be the first to point out.
But I also think he would say that our work is far from done.
According to the 2016 Annie E. Casey Kids Count Data Book, Florida ranks 40th among the 50 states for overall child well-being. We can do better, and we must do better.
Since the inception of Healthy Start, infant mortality has dropped by more than 20 percent, with significant progress in many areas including increased breastfeeding rates, decreased percentage of women who smoke, and decreased teen pregnancy rates.
As Gov. Chiles said, “to be a successful state, we must nurture successful children.”
To the coalition, thank you for devoting yourselves to infant and maternal health. Thank you for giving children a voice and being their champions, and for carrying on the legacy begun by Lawton and Rhea Chiles – who truly believed in a healthy start for every child.