Linda White-Epps touched many lives, many of them turned out Monday to honor her
The former Legislative Council member became the second person in the state to have a Post Office named for them, and the first African-American bestowed that honor. The only other Post Office in the state that bears a person’s name is the Barbara Kennelly Post Office in Hartford, named for the former congresswoman.
But it was White-Epps’ work in the community – and especially for raising awareness of breast cancer among black women – that brought her the accolades.
It was that disease that took her life three years ago. “Today is our way of thinking Linda for the many years she worked to raise awareness for breast cancer,” Master of Ceremonies Leigh A. Piscitelli told a standing room-only crowd at the dedication ceremony at the Playwright Irish Pub restaurant Monday.
“Linda had lots and lots of friends, and we are all honored to be here.” There were so many people in attendance that there was barely room to walk in the Whitney Avenue facility.
While the temperature outside barely rose above freezing, inside it got so warm that one person collapsed in the heat.
The program featured both current Mayor Craig Henrici and former Mayor Carl Amento, as well as U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, a friend of the White-Epps family and herself a cancer survivor.
“This is a very special day for our community,” DeLauro said. “Today, Linda’s legacy lives on in every woman who has been touched by her extraordinary life.”
DeLauro met White-Epps’ mother, Phyllis White, four decades ago when both worked for the Community Action Institute.
“They are seasoned pros at getting the community organized,” DeLauro said of the family. “We had such a time. What they were all about was devotion to the community.
“This turnout this morning speaks volumes,” she said. Those in attendance included White-Epps’ father, her children, her siblings and nieces and nephews. One person who wasn’t there was her mother, Phyllis, who was too ill to attend.
“You know if she could have, she would have been here,” DeLauro said, “but in a very real way she is here in spirit.”
DeLauro sponsored the bill that renames the Whitneyville Post Office on Putnam Avenue the “Linda White-Epps Post Office.” That bill passed both houses of Congress last year.
White-Epps was the founder of Sisters’ Journey, a support organization for breast cancer survivors and heir families. For seven years, the group has promoted early detection and education to help women cope with the disease.
White-Epps herself was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 when she was 45 years old. The disease went into remission but resurfaced in 2002 and took her life a year later. Her death was especially tragic in that it is rare for a cancer in remission for more than five years to reappear. She served on the Legislative Council until her death and was running for reelection when she passed away.
She led the effort to organize the town’s first Relay for Life cancer fundraiser in 2002, an event that raised more than $50,000. Her efforts have been recognized by the American Cancer Society, the Greater New Haven NAACP and the President’s Points of Light program.
“She wanted to give each woman a fighting chance in beating this disease,” DeLauro said. “She felt that no one should have to depend on luck dealing with cancer.”
Amento said that as a member of the council, White-Epps was relentless in pushing for breast cancer awareness.
“Linda made sure that when I was mayor, I did everything I could to promote it,” he said. “She was very forceful; you couldn’t say no to her.”
But he also had a very personal connection to the former Whitneyville resident, he said.
His wife Mary Ellen had gone years without getting a mammogram, he said, and it was at White-Epps urging that she got one and found out she had the disease.
“Linda helped save a life very dear to me and to my children,” Amento said. “It was detected early, and with help from Linda we got through the ordeal.”
It was White-Epps who coined her nickname that has lasted for years, said Julia Ficklin, a friend of White-Epps. “Each time she would say, ‘my Jules,’ I would think to myself, ‘My God, Linda is the jewel,” Ficklin said. “She is a jewel in many people’s lives.”