By Louis De Lauro
So Jay Varma and I worked together as camp counselors.
We ran sports and games together. We sang Baby Shark together—he was the better counselor. I was older than him, so when the off-site director needed an onsite director, he chose me to direct the camp. I was a solid choice to direct the camp because I was on my way to becoming a school teacher.
I remember thinking that guy Jay is smarter, more talented, and more capable than me. I remember thinking nobody at this campsite is more talented than Jay Varma. He is amazing with kids; he cares about the other counselors and makes them laugh. He knows how to communicate with parents. He is special. Then I remember thinking, I will do my best to direct the camp. I also remember thinking Jay would grow up to do great things. Jay and I worked together for one more year. And then I forgot all about Jay. Until yesterday.
Fast forward to yesterday. I was drinking tea looking at my phone and the NBC news was on the television in the background. And I heard Jay’s voice (yes, I recognized his voice). I looked up at the TV and immediately recognized Jay. I had not seen him for 30 years. He looked the same—maybe more distinguished. He was wearing a suit and discussing the vaccines for COVID. The screen said, Jay Varma, NYC Chief Medical Advisor. And I thought to myself, “Yep. I am not surprised. Good for Jay!”
Jay was a pretty special camp counselor. I smiled at my TV and listened to Jay’s every word. Geez, he is smart, I thought. Then I re-wound the news and took a photo of the screen. Jay Varma was a great success. Seeing him so successful made me happy. I couldn’t stop smiling.
Within moments I wrote a FB post and shared a photo of my TV screen. I wrote:
“Good Stuff!! I was the onsite director of a camp program at the Princeton Y 30 years ago. This guy, Jay, was probably the best camp counselor I worked with. Now he is NYC’s chief medical adviser. Haven’t seen him in 30 years. Recognized his voice while watching the news this morning. I remember singing Baby Shark with him so many years ago. Good stuff!!”
So later that day, I found Jay on Facebook and we were immediately social media friends. Yes, social media is like magic. Jay wrote to me that he remembered me well and he asked about my sister who he worked closely with at the camp. He knew her pretty well. Then I told him to look on social media and read the post I wrote about him.
Within moments, he responded to my post.
He wrote: “Wow! Wonderful small world story, and my voice always has been kind of loud.”
I laughed. Jay was a loud camp counselor. And on television, his voice still boomed. I was filled with admiration for Jay Varma. The best camp counselor I knew grew up to be a medical adviser doing his best to help save lives during a pandemic. That’s pretty cool, right?
So why I am writing this blog. To show off? I know Jay Varma. He is way smarter than you or me. Nope. I am writing this blog to remind you that admiration for others is a beautiful thing.
I admire my parents. My siblings. My wife. My daughter. My friends.
My colleagues. And I am quick to put people on a pedestal at least for a few minutes.
Grandpa John, my wife’s father, designs candy and candy boxes for Gertrude Hawks. His artwork is awesome!
James Cho is the best chess coach in New Jersey. His program has over 100 kids and they win trophies at the state tournament every year. And kids, parents, and colleagues love James Cho.
Cindy Miller Graul is an amazing photographer. Tori Repp is too. See their photos on Instagram. Wow! I love their photos. I love Jolie Williamson’s photos too! Ooh, I almost forgot Victor Correa’s photos. Love his work. I love photographers!
My wife has survived three heart surgeries. And she is the funniest person I know.
My buddy John works for the World Food Bank. Isn’t that awesome?
I know the members of the rock band Hyperactive. Yes, I know they retired, but they were New Jersey’s best shore band for 25 years. I love those guys.
My kid is the varsity captain of the tennis team. She is a straight A student too. Sure I am bragging. She is a hard worker. I really admire her.
My former student Connor O’Neill is a New Jersey State Wrestling champion! Now he wrestles for Rutgers! I love reading about him online. He is a really nice guy too.
My former student Maria Valencia, works with a hospital Child Life Team. What does she do? She prepares children and their families for surgery. She makes hospital stays better for children and their families. She is lovely.
Jon Stewart went to my high school. I remember when he was a bartender at City Gardens and the Bottom Half. His comedy has always been cutting edge funny, but his work helping others is what sets him apart from other comedians. I admire Jon Stewart.
Bob Maloney was my 10th-grade writing teacher. He is gone now, but he told me I was a very good writer. He encouraged me to never stop writing. I have great admiration for him. Sure he is gone, but his spirit lives on through me every time I write a blog or story.
I want to keep writing about people I admire, but I will stop for now. I have so much admiration for so many people. I feel like I could write pages about the wonderful people I know. Admiration is beautiful.
I encourage all of us to publicly and privately admire others. Admiration is inspiring. Admiration is a game-changer.
Thinking about all of the people I admire makes me smile inside and out. I want to end this piece with a few more words about Jay. I gave you not so specific reasons why I admire some people above. Let me give you specific reasons why I admire Jay.
Sure I remember him being a camp counselor who cared for kids and found a way to keep them smiling all summer. Sure kids admired Jay. Maybe they loved Jay. But here are three specific reasons why I admire Jay.
He was the smartest guy at the camp. You knew he was really smart when you spoke with him, but he never judged others. He embraced everyone. I remember him being very friendly with camp staff who were not academic. He didn’t care. He loved being friends with everyone. He didn’t judge others. He was kind to others.
I remember Jay breaking stupid stereotypes (that I had in my head in the early 90s). I thought Jay was a bit nerdy when I met first met him. (Sorry, Jay.) But he wasn’t; he was cool. He liked great music. He knew how to converse with everyone. And he was a damn good basketball player at least compared to the rest of us.Admiration is a game-changer. ~ Louis De Lauro Click To Tweet
Finally, I remember one unforgettable conversation with Jay. I remember telling him I was going to be a teacher. He said to me, “You will be a great teacher.” I asked him what he might do. He was very young, maybe 18 or 19 years old, and he said, “I don’t know. But I want to figure out a way to help others.” I nodded my head and said, “That’s good. That’s really good.”
Yesterday, I saw Jay Varma on TV. He is NYC’s Chief Medical Advisor.
He is educating others.
He is caring for others.
He is doing his best to help save lives.
I admire Dr. Jay Varma.
And I admire you too.
Admiration is beautiful.
Article Photo: Provided by Author