For years the Grant Halliburton Foundation has been a forward champion in battling mental health. While the subject was once considered verboten by many, the Foundation has created a luncheon that brings it out in the open to help those suffering from the disease to realize they are not alone and there are ways to deal with it. On Tuesday, March 10, the organization held its 11th Annual Beacon Luncheon at the Omni Dallas Hotel with The Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy as the keynote speaker. His talk was startlingly honest and revealing. Here is a report from the field:
Vanita Halliburton and Alan Halliburton formed the Grant Halliburton Foundation to prevent other parents from having their same painful experience: the death of their child by suicide. Suicide and mental health can be difficult topics to discuss, but on Tuesday, March 10, more than 400 people turned out for the 11th annual Beacon of Hope Community Luncheon at the Omni Dallas Hotel, all in support of the foundation named after the Halliburtons’ son Grant. The luncheon, presented by The David B. Miller Family Foundation, helps raise awareness about the critical need for mental health services for North Texas youth, as well as critical financial support for the organization’s lifesaving work. The featured speaker was The Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy who shared his personal story of addiction.
This year’s event was chaired by best friends Dixey Arterburn and Ginger Sager, both dressed in blue for the occasion, but bringing a spirit to the luncheon that was anything but that color’s signature sentiment. This dynamic duo is known for their fun-loving approach to chairing events, but shared that their support for Grant Halliburton Foundation was serious.
Sager shared from the podium, “Grant Halliburton Foundation’s work and mission are important to me because of my own family’s struggles with mental illness including depression, anxiety and addiction. I am especially appreciative of its Mental Health Navigation Line that provides much needed resources for families like my own.”
Others present to support the mission were honorary co-chairs, Kate and Art Anderson; with presenting sponsor; emcee Steve Noviello of FOX 4 News; vice chairs Kylie Hughitt and Jessica Slay, LPC-S; and raffle coordinators Sharon Popham and Polly Campbell. Others attending included Grant Halliburton Foundation President Kevin Hall; Director of Special Events and Grant Halliburton’s sister Amy Halliburton McCloskey, Barb and David Farmer, Kristi and Bill Francis, Julie and Ken Hersh and Mary and Neil Dorflinger, who hosted the VIP reception at their modern Preston Hollow home the evening before.
Returning to the Beacon of Hope Luncheon was Rainne, a locally based alt-pop duo that recently opened at the Hollywood Bowl for Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Lizzo and the Jonas Brothers. Singer-songwriter Annie Dingwill and saxophonist Justin Klunk kicked off the luncheon by performing the song, “A Beacon of Hope.” Dingwall, who co-wrote the song with founding Beacon of Hope Chair Barb Farmer, also performed at the first event 11 years ago. Rainne later performed another original song, “Stepping Stone.” Dingwall noted that the song talks about “continuing to try to overcome obstacles even when it feels like hope is lost. For someone struggling with mental illness, Grant Halliburton Foundation provides the stepping stones to getting help, to getting better.”
Following this poignant song, Vanita spoke about losing her son. “He was a boy who loved life more than anything, a boy who struggled as a teenager with depression and ultimately bipolar disorder…a boy who wanted to live more than he wanted to die, but who reached a point of such deep despair that he felt the only way to end his intense emotional pain was to end his life.” She added, “I tell this story as we worked to get him the help he needed. I wish with all my heart we’d known then what we know now about mental illness and suicide prevention. I will never know what caused my son to give up hope. But I do know there is always hope. There is always help. With your help, Grant Halliburton Foundation will continue to give everything we have to changing and saving young lives.”
Noviello then introduced Kennedy. “Our speaker spent 16 years in the U.S. House of Representatives, serving Rhode Island and fighting to end discrimination against mental illness, addiction and other brain diseases. He is best known as the lead sponsor of the groundbreaking Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which passed with bipartisan support and was signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2008. After the death of his father, Senator Ted Kennedy, he left Congress to devote his life to mental health advocacy and enforcement of the Federal Parity Law, pursue a healthier lifestyle and start a family.”
Kennedy shared his personal story of becoming the poster boy of mental illness, though not by his choice. “Rob Remy did drug treatment along with me when I was 17. He then wrote and sold this story to the National Enquirer. It’s never good when your face and name are on the cover. But my constituents elected me despite the fact that I was a drug addict.”
“Even though I was in office, I still went to the Mayo Clinic every couple of months to get dried out. Then I would rotate from alcohol to drugs to opioids.”
Kennedy told the story of, while still a Congressman, how he had gone on a binge, blacked out and ended up crashing his car. The next morning, his chief of staff called, and when he showed up on Capitol Hill, national press was waiting to talk to him. His father called. Patrick said that what his dad thought of him mattered very much. My dad said, “It looks like you dented your car.”
Patrick remarked, “That’s how it was with my family. If it wasn’t seen, it wasn’t happening. My mother was a debilitating alcoholic. There’s shame and a stigma attached to it, and yet we as kids looked the other way and we ignored it. If she came out in her bathrobe, it was our role to take her back in to her room. In fact, there are multiple members of my family with mental health, addiction and mood disorders.”
He added, “We need to tackle these issues head on. The Grant Halliburton Foundation tries to address these issues early. The Here for Texas Mental Health Navigation Line is like having Angie’s List and a Match.com for mental health resources.”
He concluded with his current story. “I got sober after I left Congress. I had zero to do, so I attended meetings, sometimes multiple meetings a day. On February 22, I reached nine years of sobriety. I can look at my kids’ eyes and just be present for them. Hate the disease. Don’t hate the people suffering from the disease.”
* Photo credit: Simon Luna