Mary Bradford served countless causes with grace and generosity in her life, but one of them was more personal than others.
His name is Scott, and he's her son. In 1957, at the age of 6, he literally became a poster child for polio.
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“The fact that she was so involved in this is because she didn't have a choice,” Mickey Kempf, Scott's older brother, told a roomful of his fellow Littleton Rotarians on Jan. 20.
Mickey Kempf was there on behalf of his mother's estate, which bequeathed $10,000 to the club's anti-polio efforts — enough to provide 16,667 doses of the vaccination to children around the world who wouldn't otherwise get them.
“In 1985, Rotary said to the rest of the world that we will eradicate polio from the face of the earth,” said Peter Ewing, governor of Rotary District 5450, of which Littleton is a part. “We made that promise to the children of the world.”
And they're almost there. As of last year, just 10 countries reported any cases at all: Afghanistan, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Iraq, Israel, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia and Syria.
Ewing said polio is likely to be a thing of the past in the African countries this year. But some radical Muslims are opposed to vaccinations and have been known to threaten those who administer them, so Pakistan, in particular, remains rife with the paralyzing disease.
Littleton Rotary alone raised $8,000 for the cause last year, enough for about 13,333 doses of the vaccine.
But Scott Kempf, born in 1951, contracted the disease a bit too soon for one of those doses to save him. Dr. Jonas Salk invented it the next year, but it wasn't licensed until 1955. His brother Mickey says Scott is experiencing post-polio syndrome now, which often happens in survivors. Polio kills nerves, and they don't all recover. So as the muscles begin to atrophy with age, symptoms like fatigue, pain and breathing problems set in.
“But he's never slowed down,” said Mickey Kempf. “He kept working all his life. And he was always the one getting in trouble, because he was raising more hell than anyone else. I had to learn from him.”
One can be sure Mary Bradford was more than well equipped to deal with boisterous boys. During her funeral last July, Greg Kempf, another son, painted a picture of just how much she touched and shaped Littleton in the years since she arrived in 1959, with her gentle yet persistent hands in everything from Town Hall Arts Center to Littleton Adventist Hospital, Littleton Symphony Orchestra to Buck Recreation Center, and far too many more to count.
“She was motivated and invigorated by people in a big way, and yes, Mom was a social butterfly,” Mickey Kempf said during the service. “She has taught us all what community means, what giving and caring should be, what family should strive to be. She always made every person in the room feel important, and she could always make you feel good about yourself.”
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