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For Lonnie, with love

"Love you. Be safe!"

How many times has Lonnie Braxton II said that to me, at the end of a phone call, and to legions of other people lucky enough to be his friend?

Braxton, who is 73, is retiring at the end of the month after three decades as a prosecutor for the state of Connecticut. Don't worry: He plans to continue his life's work of learning and teaching and helping to uplift others. Day Staff Writer Taylor Hartz will be writing a story about him later this month with some of the details.

His co-workers and friends had planned a retirement party for Braxton this coming Tuesday, but it's been called off because of COVID-19.

I'm using this space to tell you about Braxton from an admittedly biased point of view. As prickly and pesky as reporters can be, we sometimes become friends with the people we cover. Our readers rely on us to be objective in news stories, and I want you to know I would step away from writing a hard news story about Braxton.

This is a column, where I'm allowed to voice my opinion. I try to avoid using the pronoun "I" in this space, because my work as an engagement editor is about all of us at The Day and about you, the community.  But Braxton is special, and for him I'll show my hand.

He adopted me as one of his "students" many years ago when I began covering courts for The Day. He'd call me about a story and urge me to continue reporting and consider other points of view. He loaned me books and videos to help me better understand addiction, criminal justice, race relations and more.

Braxton told me about his parents, who worked as sharecroppers in Mississippi before he was born, and who raised him and his sister in a house as modest as could be while instilling in them strong values, a love of learning and hope for a better future. He told me about his service in the Navy, his work at Electric Boat and his decision to become a lawyer.

He introduced me to his son, Lonnie Braxton III, who was born with Down syndrome and who is, Braxton says, the greatest blessing. I met Gwendolyn Bosco, whom Lonnie III called "mom" long before she became Braxton's wife. 

He invited me to his house in the south end of New London and showed me his progress as he renovated it himself, room by room. He showed me his collection of civil rights memorabilia, his citrus plants and the many projects he always has underway.

I was there with notebook in hand the night the nation elected Barack Obama. Under a bold front-page headline on Nov. 5, 2008, that said, 'Obama's Election Seen As A Defining Moment For Legacy Of America,' was a quote from Braxton that said, "America has risen."

He was elated the country had come so far since 1962, when his mother, Leenora Sanders Braxton, had to pass an exam, pay a $2 poll tax and endure hostility in order to participate in an election. He said the dream had become a reality, but warned me that things would be rough. Of course, he was right.

He predicted the opioid crisis would spread into the suburbs and that the death toll would be high. Of course, he was right.

In 2010, I wrote a series of stories about Lonnie III, who competed in the Special Olympics in Lincoln, Neb., taking home several medals along with memories. A couple of years ago, I was invited to Lonnie III's 50th birthday party at The Garde Theatre, an event made more joyous because he was not expected to live past 30.

Braxton spoke to us for a podcast, which is attached to this column. Give it a listen, as we covered many topics of interest. At the end, I made sure to tell him how I, and the community, feel about him.

We love you, Lonnie. Be safe.

Karen Florin is The Day's engagement editor. She can be reached at k.florin@theday.com or (860) 701-4217.

 

Listen to the interview with Lonnie Braxton II:


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