Donald Fred Summers, Sr., former President of the SDS/MSA Support Group was born on April 7, 1932 and passed away on May 22, 2013. A memorial fund has been set up in Don’s name with donations going to the Multiple System Atrophy Coalition. On June 15, 2013, Don Crouse delivered this eulogy at his memorial service:
Hello my name is Don Crouse and I serve on the Board of Directors for The Multiple System Atrophy Coalition, which was formerly the SDS/MSA Support Group, a charity that was near and very dear to Don’s heart. Multiple System Atrophy is a rare and fatal neurodegenerative disease with about 13,000 Americans diagnosed at any given time; 13,000 too many having to fight and struggle with this horrible disease.
Multiple system atrophy brought Don and me together.
Don Summers was a kind, compassionate and caring man. He had a profound influence on my life and on the lives of so many others.
Don was a mentor to me. He taught me about compassion for a cause greater than oneself. He showed me that it is okay for a strong man to cry. He wore his heart and his emotions on his sleeve. Hopefully, I won’t demonstrate that skill set over the next few minutes as I speak to you, but if I do, I know it is okay because of Don.
We met in 1995. Don and his first wife Gwen attended the SDS/MSA Support Group annual meeting that year as Gwen had multiple system atrophy. After Gwen passed away in 1997 Don went from being an attendee at the meeting to becoming an active leader in the MSA community. During this same time, I was a young pharmaceutical executive marketing a new medication that happened to have benefits for MSA patients. When we met, we connected right away. As our relationship grew Don encouraged me to be more than just a guy doing his job, but to truly care for and help the patient communities that I worked with. He lit a fire in my soul to give back and to do everything in my power to help the multiple system atrophy community. The power of giving back is a gift that I will always cherish and remember Don for giving to me.
In 1998, Don became President of the SDS/MSA Support Group and served in that role for more then a decade. He was a selfless giver spending untold hours every week on the phone with others trying to cope
with the devastation of multiple system atrophy. Anyone who has spent time in Don’s house knows it was not uncommon for a special phone to ring. Don would answer the phone and slip into another room for an hour or more to listen to and counsel an MSA patient, caregiver or family member. It should be noted too, all of the work, effort and emotion that Sylvia contributed to the MSA community. Don and Sylvia were a powerhouse team fighting for an important cause.
When Don passed last month he was, know doubt, greeted in heaven by thousands of MSA angels, including Gwen! On the MSA Coalition Facebook page, so many have expressed their sorrow at hearing of the loss of Don, but the comments are filled with gratitude and thanks because he truly helped so many people. When you know the effort Don put into the MSA community, this outpouring is not surprising. For so many he was the empathetic, caring voice on the support line or the emotional leader at an MSA conference. He spent so many hours just listening to the troubles of others, a service that was so desperately needed by those affected with MSA. Perhaps that’s why God gave him such a great set of ears. He also offered sage wisdom learned from years of caring for and loving Gwen during her battle with MSA. His ability to grow and share from what he learned during his own trials and tribulations is one of the things that made Don such an extraordinary human being.
On a personal level, Don was a great friend. We considered each other family. It was such a great honor to have Don and Sylvia drive their RV all the way from Coupland up to NJ for my wedding. Because of distance, we didn’t get together in person as often as we would have liked, but we talked on the phone often. Don ended every call with me the exact same way. Don would say “Love ya, son” and then he would always asked me to give a big hug and lots of love to my wife and two little girls. But most important he helped me to grow from a young pharmaceutical marketer into a compassionate adult with a primary mission of helping others, no matter my course in life.
In fact, Don has influenced each Director of The MSA Coalition in a positive way. With Don in our hearts we will carry on in his memory. One day, hopefully in the not too distant future, Don, Gwen and their gang of multiple system atrophy angels will be celebrating when we announce a cure has been discovered.
Don, rest in peace! You’ve earned it. Very few people have ever given so much of themselves to help others. I am proud to have known you, to call you a friend and a member of the family. I will miss you dearly, as will the entire multiple system atrophy community.